“I know a falcon swift and peerless
As e’er was cradled In the pine;
No bird had ever eye so fearless,
Or wing so strong as this of mine.”
– from ‘The Falcon’ by James Russell Lowell
I am still reeling from Friday’s Peregrine Watch event, and fretting already about our beloved birds. Last year’s event was sourly punctuated by a visit to the ground team by pigeon fanciers, who were openly threatening the birds: “they’re not natural” / “we’re going to GET those birds“. Within two weeks of the event the female peregrine was found on the ground near tower street, and spent the night with the RSPCA with a diagnosis of ‘nerve damage’. What many people don’t know is that the eggs she had laid before her ‘incident’ died while she was in care.
One of them hatched and was found dead, half-out of the egg. The photograph is too disturbing to post here.
Now of course I have no PROOF that the nerve damage was caused by any deliberate attempt to harm her, or even if it did that ‘pigeon fanciers’ are to blame. But I do know for a fact that if it WERE the case, it would not be the first time.
In 2009 in Walsall a pigeon was found with a capsule strapped to its leg. The capsule was filled with Aldicarb, a banned pesticide which directly affects the central nervous system.
Poisoning appears to be the modus operandi of pigeon fanciers wishing to target birds of prey. But while peregrine falcons are awarded the highest level of legal protection, there seem to be relativley few convictions (the maximum level of sentence is £5,000 fine and 6 months in prison), to the extent that in 2011 the RSPB offered a £1,000 reward for information leading to a conviction following the poisoning of two peregrines in Cornwall.
A little voice in my head whispers to me that bringing attention to the peregrines in 2011 may have pushed the poisoners to act, and indeed I questioned whether Peregrine Watch 2012 should happen at all. But promoting awareness and understanding of our birds is the ONLY weapon we have agains these creeps. The more people that get to know about the birds and care about them, the more vigilant eyes and ears we have in the war against this and other wildlife crimes.
Peregrines undoubtedly do take racing pigeons. But their diet is varied, including woodcock, mallard, swift, moorhen and starling (all of which have been seen to have been taken by the peregrines in Walsall).
I also have no doubt that the pigeon enthusiasts who are undertaking this cruel, cowardly passive-aggressive act of poisoning, do not represent the entire racing pigeon community. I would love nothing more than to have some decent, outspoken pigeon racers ‘on side’ to help us to combat the misinformation and paranoia fuelling these crimes.
By and large, the population of Walsall have responded tremendously and positively to the presence of raptors in our town centre.
The Peregrine Watch events have given people a glimpse into the daily struggle for survival – the wilderness in miniature taking place over their heads as they walk to buy a sandwich at lunchtime.
That glimpse, that brief and private connection with a wild creature serves as a reminder that we don’t own the town, the countryside, or the wider landscape. We are only ONE of thousands of species which live here, but that only WE are blessed with the sentience that allows us to see our own place in the landscape.
I’ll finish my rant by arming you with the knowledge of what to do if you suspect or witness a wildlife crime, and the words of James Russell Lowell from ‘The Falcon’:
“Let fraud and wrong and baseness shiver,
For still between them and the sky
The falcon Truth hangs poised forever
And marks them with his vengeful eye.”