Persecution problems

A little a later than planned sorry about that.

The RSPB released their annual bird crime report a few weeks ago and as you might imagine it doesn’t make for great reading when it comes to birds of prey in fact its all pretty much based on birds of prey and the continued persecution facing them. This blog actually coincides with a talk I went to last night by head of investigations at the RSPB, Guy Shorrock for the Gloucestershire Raptor Study Group. It was free talk and was fantastically well attended with over 100 people present, I’ve come across Guy on several occasions but never met him so it was great to meet him briefly and hear what someone with 26 years of investigations and detective work had to say about life at the sharp end of wildlife crime.

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GRMG (c)

Who are the RSPB Investigations team? Well from what I learnt last night and have previously heard they are a small team of 10 members of staff within the RSPB’s circa 2000 staff who are committed to uncovering and helping police fight bird persecution. When you hear some of the details Guy shares its quite staggering what they achieve despite not having the same powers as our police forces and they are often showing the Police how to do it. It is also worth bearing in mind that what makes up the Bird Crime report is only the tip of the iceberg, as Guy mentioned in his talk he made the shocking statement that the worst estates he knows could be killing upwards of 200 birds of prey a year and some of the lesser estates 100 birds of prey. He demonstrated this with one particular case study of an estate where they had killed 102 Buzzards in one year along with other species (Based on the gamekeepers vermin diary).

I have personally experienced first hand the animosity which gamekeepers have towards raptors, one of which told me in no uncertain terms to stay away from his shoot and that he wouldn’t think twice about killing Buzzards around his release pen and there’s nothing I can do about it. In some respects he’s not wrong, it is incredibly difficult to police these quite corners of the countryside. In the 2015 Birdcrime report there is a pie chart covering 176 cases of convicted persecution cases from 1990 – 2016, from these case’s over two thirds were uncovered by the RSPB Investigations team alone. Many cases don’t make it to court including incredibly ones that have shown someone on film shooting a Hen Harrier.

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RSPB (c)

We could spend all day on UK raptor persecution but there are some blogs who do it so much better so if you want to learn more check out the Bird Crime report 2016 here and visit Raptor Persecution UK blog here. You can also play a part though by keeping your eyes open whilst out in the countryside and reporting anything suspicious to the RSPB Investigations Team here.

In other news for Raptor Aid we have been busy with the formation of a new raptor study group in our home county of Cheshire. Our first meeting was well attended with a fantastic mix of ages, experience and backgrounds. We have already been involved in the start up of one raptor study group so know the tremendous hard work that goes in to making it a success. We need the young and old raptor enthusiasts of Cheshire to pull together to make their group work. We certainly have to much on our plate to do all the leg work. We have also been advising a couple of people on projects and further chasing and pursuing our own unique nest box plans, I would say watch this space but its just seems to go on and is getting very tedious.

Whilst down in Gloucestershire we managed to put up three of the final nest boxes we had as part of the Little owl nest box scheme for the GRMG and gave 4 more to Gareth and Gordon in the group to erect at sites they have in the county. The three boxes I placed up were all in and around the town I used to live and have fond memories of so it was really nice to drive around and see familiar places. One of the sites was a lovely old orchard which the county is famed for and a favorite for Little owls, I haven’t seen or heard Little owls there but it was classic habitat and the landowner was made up to receive a box. Lets see if my intuition proves right over the next couple of years for that site.

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Raptor Aid (c)

I also couldn’t resist taking a look at a couple of Tawny owl boxes and checking a Goshawk territory/nest site. There is no chance of really disturbing the birds as we are out of the breeding season but I came across a massive wind blown tree in the woods, it reinforced why we don’t climb in windy weather! I did a short video on it all which you can check out on our Facebook page.

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Raptor Aid (c)

Don’t forget now is the time to replace/repair, tidy up or even put up a nest box for the coming season, feel free to ask us if you need some advice. Make the most of the winter and get out watching the birds, we’ve already been treated to daily Sparrow hawk sightings and the local Ravens are getting particularly vocal so it won’t be long before they are showing off their incredible courtship aerial displays.

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New Goshawk territories 

Its Autumn already!

Where does it go? The time that is, it’s the middle of October already and I’m not sure how we got here already and a lot has happened since I last wrote and some bits haven’t happened that we hoped might of. As I type this storm Ophelia is gusting through strongly so I doubt I will hear the local Tawny owl or Little owl(s) calling this evening. Even though the monitoring season has finished for 2017, but if you are like us at Raptor Aid, we are constantly out looking and listening for signs of birds of prey to monitor and document and one species locally that we have slowly uncovered is the Little owl. Over the last year despite living in this village for 20 years I have managed to locate 5 territorial pairs, 3 of which I know have produced chicks in the last year.

 

Autumn and Winter is the time to get out and check, repair or replace nest boxes so we will be getting round as many as possible. We have the local pairs of Little owls to provide nest boxes for but also several of our Barn owl boxes need replacing which is no mean feat as they are hefty boxes and some a decent walk to. Tawny owl boxes will need to be checked for the usual squirrel damage and to evict any leftover drey’s ready for prospecting or returning birds. Don’t worry if you don’t get to clean a box out, Tawny owls are hardy birds and will easily displace a tough mammal like a squirrel if they want to use the box but try not to visit Tawny owl boxes after January in case you disturb and scare off a Tawny owl planning on using the box. 

 

We said goodbye to our migrant raptors and in particular the Hobbies we have been monitoring in Cheshire. We spotted our last Hobby on the 26th of September but know a friend has seen one a bit later on the Wirral but there is no doubt these birds will have made their way to the continent and further south into Africa. We managed to locate 4 nests this year which is no mean feat with other raptor workers locating further nests which we hope to compile into an individual species report for the county. We pray that these fantastic little falcons survive the continued onslaught of migrating birds across Europe and parts of the Middle east as we have seen this year due to the fantastic work of CAB’s documenting this appalling slaughter. Click on this link if you are unaware of what takes place in certain countries to see some of the shocking videos by CAB’s. *Warning these videos contains shocking images of birds dead and being shot*

 

 

The persecution for birds of prey sadly takes place closer to home and anyone who has read this page before will be aware of the ongoing illegal persecution of raptors in the UK. This hasn’t subsided with more cases of direct persecution coming to light over the last couple of months including shot Peregrines and Buzzards. Just as shocking is Natural England’s continued lack of transparency in the Satellite tagging of Hen Harriers in Britain. Due to increased pressure details have just been released with figures of how many harriers were tagged between 2002 – 2017 and their current status. Since the release of this report of the 158 Hen harriers tagged only 6 are still definitely known to be alive, some may argue don’t raptors have a high fatality rate as juveniles but it smells a bit strange that most of these birds have vanished off the radar completely? What might be a bit more telling if we were allowed to see where these birds we found dead or where there last fixes were transmitted from? Plotted on a map might give us a clue on what is really happening to these birds but why don’t you have a read of the ever fantastic blog Raptor Persecution UK and make up your own mind.

The report is available here.

 

We have been busy with the captive birds which has meant sadly we couldn’t make it out to India or the Philippines for a conference. We also had a wild Peregrine in for rehab that had fallen from a nest and damaged its wing. We got the bird flying free and she was slowly getting fitter but then out of the blue she took a turn for the worse due to a respiratory condition that the vets couldn’t help her and she had to be euthanised. It was an incredibly sad end but what annoyed me most about this case was a couple of peoples narrow views and lack of trust regarding the keeping of a wild bird in captivity for rehab and using falconry techniques to get it better. I’m not against peoples opinions of animals in captivity BUT when someone is spending time, money, extensive knowledge and contacts to get a bird better and for release its a little frustrating when it is all questioned and you get squeezed on releasing the bird before it even fit enough to survive. There is probably a whole other guest blog by friends who spend 365 days doing an incredible job rehabbing wildlife and our raptors in particular – I’ll add it to the list.

 

The charitable status is still on going but we are very close to sending the application off to the Charities Commission and this is down to the fantastic work of one of our trustee’s. We really can’t thank him enough! Its a bit of a lifelong dream to be involved in the creation of something that will benefit birds of prey hopefully on a global scale for many years to come and we have so much planned once the charitable status is signed off – fingers crossed of course! We will be moving away from working directly with captive birds of prey to focus on conservation and also the current issues faced by captive raptors in the UK. Watch this space!

 

Going forward we are involved in yet another raptor study group initiative with the re birth of the Cheshire group. I am young enough not to have been about for the first birth and now a friend has decided it would be good to bring it back. I personally felt a bit hesitant as I know the incredible hard work that goes on behind the scenes of the Gloucestershire Raptor Monitoring Group but I think the county needs a central point for data collection, brain storming and support for future raptor field workers. The first meeting takes place in November so if you’re from Cheshire and want to be involved or need help finding your own local raptor study group just drop us a message.

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Monitoring Goshawks under licence – Gloucestershire

On the subject of the Gloucestershire RSG, this year we were involved in a very exciting film project with the award winning author Helen McDonald and a follow up programme for her best selling award winning book H is for Hawk. There are hundreds of reviews online if you’ve not read or heard of the book but 10 years on from the passing away of Helen’s father the BBC Natural World series wanted to produce a follow up one hour documentary on Helen with a new Goshawk. This also included the filming of a wild Goshawk nest, GRMG members played a pivotal role helping the camera men get stunning shots of displaying Goshawks but also access to the elusive birds nest which they filmed from incubation through to fledgling chicks! The filming of the nest was by a bit of a hero of mine, James Aldred a wildlife camera man and tree climbing expert for the BBC, this guy has climbed some insane trees all over the world including Orang Utans in Borneo and Harpy Eagles in South America – he has a book out now titled ‘the man who climbs trees’ and its a great read!

So the filming and editing is all done and you may spot a certain Raptor Aid man climbing the tree to the Goshawk nest to lower them down to Helen McDonald and our good friend and Goshawk guru Robin for ringing. It was great to work with Helen again and be part of the production the programme air’s on BBC 2 this Thursday (19th) @ 9 pm.

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OK that’s enough for this blog! We hope you’re all well and thanks for reading and remember just because the nights are drawing in doesn’t mean you can’t still see your local raptors! Only the other day we watched two juvenile Peregrines playing, a male Sparrowhawk hunting a hedgerow and a Kestrel hunting a field margin – it’s a great time to watch stuff!

Yours in raptors,

Jimmi

 

We’re still rolling

I’m sure you haven’t been clinging to your iPad or mobile phone waiting for an update on the world of Raptor Aid – We’ve just been so bloomin busy with several things so I will try and get you up to speed with how the summer is panning out and what we have been doing.

Well the wild bird of prey monitoring has been in full swing her in the UK, we have pretty much signed off all the nest sites and boxes we need to check and we are now into the final furlong of chasing those pesky small migrant falcons – Hobbies. The hours I have spent stood in fields not seeing anything certainly outweighs any glimpse of the bird themselves but that’s what makes it so addictive because “the glimpse” which could be only a single syllable call or the flick of a wing behind a tree and gone is what hooks you to persevere. Its behavior like this that makes the Hobby one of Britain’s hardest raptors to study and gets them the nickname “Little Houdini” but don’t let that put you off! August and September is the best time to get out and find successful noisy nestlings to give you a head start for next year. We will make sure you get a full break down of the season in a future blog.

We are also incredibly busy behind the scenes trying to get Raptor Aid charitable status, the reason behind this is twofold, not only to make the work of RA and any money raised to forward the conservation of raptors globally but also safeguard the future of any hard work we are create or are involved with. I suppose critics may say its all about getting money easier and dodging taxes but this couldn’t be further from the truth, not only are the charitable guidelines incredibly strict  (which it should) but getting the organisation charitable and sustainable is going to be the biggest challenge. We still have our captive bird of prey team to take care of (Wings Bird of Prey) and this is proving to be incredibly busy so that also impacts on the set up of the charity but 21 beaks need feeding, and exercising before anything else is achieved. Despite the captive birds now being a complete separate operation the bigger plan would be for Raptor Aid to have no direct connection with captive birds of prey other than lobbying and developing guidelines for better welfare legislation both with private keepers but especially commercial enterprises using birds of prey.

Sadly since we have put our head above the parapet about organisations using birds of prey commercially we have received several correspondence from worried individuals who have seen certain organisations that have birds in poor condition with worrying welfare standards and of course the dreaded poke and stroke that birds are put through in order to fulfill a human desire to touch and in return line the pockets of the organisation (we have blogged about this previously and no doubt will in the near future). In the first instance we are contacting venues and organisations directly asking them to review their practices and questioning the ethics of what they are offering – this often falls on deaf ears so in the long term we will continue developing guidelines and lobbying for tougher legislation on the ownership of birds of prey in the UK. We are also half way through monitoring bird of prey for sale pages in the UK and it is proving to be another eye opener with over 100 adult birds of prey being sold each month – we will be completing a full report in the new year once we have compiled all the data. If you see anything just make sure you gather plenty of information and images of your concerns and feel free to forward them to us confidentially.

We have a couple of trips away planned for August and October – August the plan is to visit two brothers who are working to rescue and rehabilitate Black Kites in Delhi, the issue lies with Indian culture and their love of flying man made kites and the wild Black Kites colliding with the strings which are often left hung up in trees or directly on a flying kite. This can cause horrific injuries to the birds and the brothers are doing everything they can to try and help each individual Black kite along with many other species. Another thing they are finding is metabolic bone deficiencies in the Black kites due to their huge population and poor diet from scavenging they are receiving huge numbers of young nestlings which fall from their nest each year and have this debilitating deficiency based on the poor diet they are being fed from primarily rubbish dumps. In October we might be making another trip to the Philippines for the Asian Raptor Conservation Network conference and to maybe carry out a couple of workshops at the Philippine Eagle Foundation. This trip isn’t confirmed though as we may save the airfare for the breeding season and a potential nest site visit in the new year.

We are carrying out some of our own rehabilitation work at the moment with a juvenile wild Peregrine in our care. Sadly this bird took a crash landing on one of her maiden flights and was found grounded with a damaged wing. She was taken to a wildlife hospital where they had the bird checked over by a vet and x-ray’s carried out. Luckily no breaks and after two weeks of box rest the Peregrines wing is back to normal but sadly the bird has missed vital flying and learning time with her sibling(s) and parents. We were asked to come and give her a test flight to see if she was fit for a quick release but unfortunately she barely managed to get off the ground more than 20ft so it was deemed irresponsible to just leave her to chance. We will use the knowledge we have training and getting captive birds of prey fit and get her fit, flying free and also hunting before the end of the summer and then release her back to the wild. Since helping the wildlife hospital we have also added bird of prey rehabilitation to our plans for the future, and hope to work closely with the local wildlife hospitals and vets to assist with any raptors they have admitted.

I should also do a round up of what everyone else is doing in the world of raptor conservation but I will leave this for a separate blog this week sometime. In the meantime enjoy the nice weather and don’t forget there is possibly a pair of Hobbies that need finding and recording – get out and enjoy the outdoors.

Jimmi

 

Philippine Eagle Foundation part 2

The second installment of the trip to the PEF is long over due so apologies, the nest monitoring season is now in full swing so I’m writing this blog thinking I should be outside looking for my local pair of Hobbies. Anyway……….

During the second week in the Philippines we were treated to more behind the scenes of the breeding progamme and aviaries containing the all important breeding birds. Currently there are around 28 birds paired up or in adjacent aviaries creating pair bonds, the foundation has both natural breeding pairs (birds left in an aviary together to breed naturally) and imprinted birds that are artificially inseminated. The brains behind this side of the foundation is the wonderful Eddie Juntilla, Eddie can be seen in the photo in part 1 and has been at the foundation for 30 years (maybe a little more) and is the coolest guy to hang out with. His knowledge and experience with the eagles speaks for itself, Eddie has seen 28 chicks come into this world and survive to fledging and either enter the breeding programme or be released into the wild. During my visit, Eddie and the team had successfully hatched Chick 28 and I was privileged enough to spend time hiding behind a screen watching Eddie and the team rear this chick whilst its new aviary was being built.


One of the highlights for me on this trip was getting a guided tour by Eddie around the breeding aviaries on two occasions and seeing his incredible relationship with the imprint birds. This was proved by the aggression shown towards me whilst outside their aviaries as a complete stranger and yet Eddie would walk in talking to this huge angry imprint eagle and she would completely calm down allowing him to approach her and lift her tail as if part of the breeding season (I was there after the breeding season). Growing up one of my vivid memories of the Philippine eagle was a video on the internet of this man with a leather hooded coat and a large leather mitt on his hand allowing a male Philippine eagle to jump on his mitt rested upon his head so that he could take semen from the bird. This man was Eddie himself and the eagle was the star of the show Pag-Asa the first captive bred eagle who Eddie has raised from a chick, what a treat then to stand in front of a Philippine eagle wearing the very coat and mitt used by Eddie with the great man himself.


After changing the equipment on some of the birds that the education team use during tours and talks we had a meeting with the education team, breeding team, Jayson Ibanez head of conservation and Dennis Salvador the director of the foundation with the view of implementing a training regime for the staff to follow to get some of the birds flying free. Some of the staff also needed training along with the birds so we had a lot to fit into the final week so we got cracking. The first thing some of the staff had to get their head around was weight loss in order to get the birds to fly to them, I went out to the nearest town and bought an industrial set of weighing scales for the birds to be weighed on and the staff got to grips with weight management and the initial part of training the birds.


The birds they had to train included a Serpent eagle, Brahminy kite, White Bellied sea eagle, Philippine hawk eagle and Giant scops owl and of course the Philippine eagle previously trained called Imbulog. Bong was going to oversee the whole training of the birds and development of a bird show after my departure and he also had the job of training Imbulog, that was going to be a long project as most eagles prove to be and it was shame I wouldn’t get to see her progression (I’ll have to wait til October). The birds were already well manned having been handled every day by the staff and it didn’t take long before the Brahminy kite was jumping to the fist, the hawk eagle proved to be tricky and the Serpent eagle was a little on the heavy/lazy side. The star of the show was the White Bellied sea eagle who quickly took to jumping to the fist and then flying on the creance (training line) and before I left we managed to get flying free between the staff. I personally felt this was really important as I had been told that this had become a stumbling block in the past and an area of training that a lot of people get stuck at -when to let the bird fly free! We got past this and I saw a believe in the teams eyes that this is achievable and they did it.


I don’t have any regrets from the trip but if there is one thing I would like to do next time we are in the Philippines with the PEF is to spend more time out in the field with the conservation team and the local indigenous people. I did get a small taste of this when I spent a day out in the field with Jayson Ibanez at the oldest known Philippine eagle nest site looking for eagles and meeting the local groups who live alongside the eagles. Sadly the nest this year had failed on the one egg they had laid which meant I had even less chance of seeing my first wild Philippine eagle but to be sat in a wild eagle territory with two guides and Jayson it just didn’t seem an issue – this wasn’t about twitching it was about the experience. Jayson is in the same league as Eddie, a true legend in the plight of the Philippine eagle having been involved for over 20 years its in his blood and to be out in the field with him was real honor and at that moment I knew Raptor Aid was helping the right project and long may it continue.


Just over two weeks flew by and I suppose that’s a sign of a great time, I want to take this moment to thank all the staff at the Philippine Eagle Foundation for making me feel so welcome and allowing us to create a working link. Going forward we will hopefully be back at the foundation in October for the Asian Raptor Network Conference and to continue setting up links with the PEF. We already have several UK schools who are interested in connecting with schools in the Philippines relating to bird of prey conservation and if you think you know a school who would like to get involved please just let us know.


Thanks for reading!

Exeter Peregrines

Having just spent a weekend in Exeter at the university I was very lucky to get to spend some time with Peregrine expert Nick Dixon and the long time monitored Peregrines found in Exeter on St. Michaels church. 

Nick has been studying these birds for 20 years and if I remember correctly they have been breeding on the church for 21 years. They are an incredibly productive pair of birds and this year they laid 4 eggs of which two have hatched. 

It’s not unusual for urban Peregrines to produce clutches of 5 or 6 eggs and their chicks to hatch out much earlier than more rural pairs based on the wider abundance of prey available for urban birds. Last year the Exeter birds hatched two birds from 4 eggs and Nick has a theory behind why two eggs are have not hatched for two years consecutively. 

Based on the extensive monitoring by Nick and colleagues they get to know the birds very well, whilst sat in the beer garden with great views of the birds (beer garden – very convenient for Peregrine watching) Nick told me how the male bird seems to not be the best hunting bird but more interested in incubating and brooding the chicks. The male on several occasions has brought in the dried girdle of a pigeon from his food cache and while the female struggled to glean any meat from it the male has taken his chance to brood or incubate chicks/eggs. Nick has also observed how these pigeon girdles can be dangerous – on a couple of occasions he has seen the female get the girdle stuck around her leg and then she continues to try and incubate the eggs with this skeletal shackle knocking the eggs.


How are such intimate views obtained? Well like several other urban Peregrine pairs around the country Exeters pair are also monitored by a new HD nest camera which can be viewed by anyone on the web. These websites give a fantastic live view of the life’s of Peregrines without being intrusive. Things observed include whether the adults are ringed birds, date of laying and size of clutch, how many hatch and develop and what sort of food is being brought in to the chicks. Sadly it also sometimes shows things that some viewers may find distressing, this includes at another site last year the killing of a chick by a rogue female which eventually took over the nest site. This year I believe at the same site a video has been doing the rounds on social media of the adult female sat brooding very small chicks, something spooks her and she jumps off the ledge flicking one of the tiny chicks of the ledge with her – very distressing viewing but how often does this happen? Clearly it’s part of the cycle and one of the problems predators face competing in what appears a very healthy environment for Peregrines where nest sites are becoming a premium. As humans we like to create a soap opera and story to wild animals going about life to help us connect and understand what is going on in their world.


One of the most interesting things about the Exeter Peregrines is how the current pair have been documented attacking and killing Common Buzzards that enter their territory or airspace. I have witnessed various inter species territorial displays of aggression but the Peregrines at Exeter have taken it to another level, this pair have not only tackled wild Buzzard flying in their territory but they actively kill the birds. Nick has recovered several Buzzard corpses and witnessed countless mid air dog fights and deaths. Sadly I can’t remember the current figure Nick stated but more can be found on a paper by Nick published in British Birds following this link.

One thing is certain from Nick et al’s observations you do not want to be a Buzzard flying past st.Michaels church, Exeter, you might end up with a sore head or worse! 

More details about Nick Dixons work can be found at here

The Exeter Peregrines webcam is available at this page here

One final point for readers – if you enjoy a webcam or two and the site has a donate button feel free to make a contribution. Often the hard work of people like Nick is unpaid and webcams can be incredibly expensive to put in place and stream. Nick has also created a nice booklets to support the costs of the new webcam and streaming which can be found here

Sometimes I think that in this age of social media a like and a share is all these projects need but as annoying as it is conservation costs money.

Thanks for reading, enjoy the webcams out there at the moment and coming soon will be Part two of our Philippines adventure. 

Philippine Eagle Foundation – part 1

This post is well over due! Apologies but since coming back from the Philippines it’s been back into the deep end with all sorts of things and the UK raptor monitoring season starting. Anyway I have decided to split the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) into two blog posts as I’ve got lots to share.

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On March 13th I flew out to Davao city in the Philippines to go and spend some time with the PEF at their base the Philippine Eagle Centre in Malagos within the Baguio district about 45 minutes drive from Davao city. The main aims of the trip were to learn first hand the work the foundation do to help save the Philippine eagle, share our experience and knowledge training birds of prey by training staff and birds, take equipment that the foundation struggle to obtain and that will help them with the care of their captive birds and of course to come face to face with an incredible Philippine eagle.

The Philippine eagle is one of the largest eagles in the world only found within the forests of the Philippines and sadly is now one of the rarest eagles in the world. There is thought to be only 400 pairs left in the wild and the IUCN redlist classes this bird as critically endangered. There are several issues facing the Philippine eagle including deforestation creating fragmented habitats, shooting and trapping by local villagers to protect livestock and also for fun and in some cases the pet trade. The Philippine Eagle is protected in the wild and in 1995 it was made the national bird of the Philippines. As a kid I remember seeing a picture of a Philippine eagle in a book and being completed absorbed by it, this huge mysterious eagle of the forest with its huge beak, crest of head feathers and stunning blue eyes I knew I had to meet one. When I got older and realised how endangered this species was then I also knew I had to play some small part in helping to save it – Raptor Aid had to go to the Philippines!

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Philippine Eagle – (c) Raptor Aid

The PEF started life officially around 1987 when the government funding ceased and so a band of staff continued unpaid to get the PEF and its care of the captive eagles up and running. In 1992 with the hatching of Pag-Asa the first ever captive bred eagle sparked an international awareness about the plight of the Philippine Eagle, it is both humbling and a privilege to meet and find that many of the ‘originals’ from back in 1987 are still heavily involved in the running of the PEF. The first aim of the PEF and the centre was to create a sustainable captive population of the eagle and to find out more about its status in the wild and the problems it is facing. This is also extended to the wider environment working with local communities empowering them to protect the eagles as well as the forests which they both call home.

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The team back in the 1980’s – Three people in this photo are still working at the PEF! (c) PEF

Our visit began back in the UK where Raptor Aid started compiling equipment to take out to the centre to help them with the management of their captive birds including tools for making equipment, leather and identification rings for all their captive birds. One of the main aims for the trip was to use our experience with training captive birds of prey to train members of the education team in handling and training some of their birds for flying. We will come to this in the second part of our blog but first we had to find our feet and look around the centre.

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Handing over the goodies! (c) PEF

The Philippines is a beautiful country, the city of Davao that I saw was busy and the traffic was in my own words ‘Every car for itself’ I have never seen anything like it but it just added to the experience. I had a nice hotel (except for a missing toilet seat), I said I would lose weight out there as they didn’t really understand vegetarianism (veg doesn’t cancel out the meat they still serve you) so I thought my diet would consist of rice until I found a fantastic Pizza/Pasta cafe 5 minutes from my hotel so I think I gained weight!! Dr Jayson Ibanez who I had been liaising with from the start and who oversees all the conservation and research at the PEF came to collect me and it was great to finally meet him, he is one of life’s friendly, happy people – it makes a massive difference to have that greeting you off the plane!

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I don’t think this was a crash helmet? (c) Raptor Aid

The Philippine Eagle Centre (PEC) is roughly 8 acres in size at the foothills of Mt.Apo and is not only home to a captive breeding population of Philippine eagles for conservation and research but also several other species of raptors and animals. You can find out more about the PEC here.

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The Philippine Eagle Centre (c) Raptor Aid

It was straight into training in the first few days, the centre has interns from all fields of education including the vet nurses that I showed the basics of what equipment is used in handling captive birds of prey and then basic health checking of birds. It’s always tricky to begin with when you are trying to explain even a basic thing to people who might not speak your language, I have to admit though that it was me who should be embarrassed as most Philippino’s spoke good or very good English yet all I could muster was thank you! I gathered the education team with the vet interns and over the first week we caught up as many of the birds possible that needed equipment changing and ID rings fitting, we also took the opportunity to give the birds a quick once over health wise and trim beaks and talons. Some of these birds were already handled by some of the education team during guided tours but my job was to help them get the birds flying over the next week or at least start the process.

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Interns learning the falconer knot (c) Raptor Aid

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Equipment making and fitting equipment to a Philippine Hawk Eagle with staff (c) Raptor Aid

I of course spent a lot of time around the centre exploring and just sitting and watching the birds in aviaries. I have always found it is important to enter anything with an open mind especially other countries and cultures, and this was certainly true whilst at the PEC. The grounds were really natural full of native plants and trees, many of these trees growing through the aviaries especially in the huge domed pairing aviary that contained a male and female Philippine eagle hopefully starting a long lasting pair bond. As I stared up at these birds 60 ft high on a huge limb of a tree I couldn’t help but imagine them in exactly the same position in the wild patiently waiting for the next meal. Usually such day dreaming was rudely interrupted by the wailing of the many White Bellied Sea Eagles they had at the centre or the one solitary Grey Headed Fish eagle which had the most comical of calls.

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Philippine Eagle in naturally perched aviary (c) Raptor Aid

I did of course get to fulfill a boyhood dream and a tick off the bucket list. I had been asked to also help the team retrain Chick 23 or Imbulog the young Philippine Eagle that had previously been trained for a film in collaboration with Cornell University, America. I have to admit when you read and watch videos of the “Monkey Eating Eagle” your mind conjures up all sorts of images of size but Imbulog was nowhere near as big as I thought he would be, don’t get me wrong he was still a big eagle weighting 5 KG and a set of feet to catch monkeys and a beak to back them up! It was the eyes though that struck me as the defining feature, they looked straight into you, maybe I’m romanticizing a bit but no other adult raptor has these baby blue eyes, the beak and mane of feathers just accentuate the eyes. I say mane because in birders terminology the back of the head is known as the nape and any extended feathers are known as a crest but although Imbulog could use these feathers as a crest in a warning posture they really did look like a mane of feathers. Nevertheless when I met the breeding females later in the first week the nape/crest/mane/crown whatever you call it was terrifying when fully erect and in territorial display, I’ll explain more on that in part 2.

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A picture say’s it all – Truly stunning but sadly incredibly rare (c) Raptor Aid

Dominic or Bong as he was more commonly known was training Imbulog and as I myself know from training eagles that one to one bond is incredibly important with this group of birds I tried not to interfere to much in Imbulog’s training and just observed Bong and the eagle and offer my experiences and advice where I felt necessary. Once again it is always tricky coming in as an ‘expert’ (I hate that title) and not treading on people’s toes, I could see Bong had a fantastic calm manner around the birds and the more I got to know him I learnt he also had a lot of experience training birds. Imbulog is in good hands and I look forward to sharing his progress soon.

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Bong, myself and Imbulog (c) Raptor Aid

Another part of the trip was to go and talk to Jayson’s university class which he teaches weekly, these students come from a range of courses with a common interest in the environment and how it might help their individual degrees. I packed the talk with lots of images of the work Raptor Aid has done and the monitoring work we carry out in the UK. They seemed to enjoy having this big bearded English man talking to them or maybe it was just the beard they were laughing at??

One thing I quickly realised during my first week was just how truly friendly and welcoming the country and its people were. The PEF still had members of staff working there from the early days in the 80’s but there was never a feeling of hierarchy, the younger or newer members of the team were encouraged and supported and if anything it felt like one big family. I suppose it’s understandable though when you all have the same passion and goals in life!

Part two coming up…………..

 

 

Poke & Stroke – It’s not cool!

There isn’t a week that passes when we aren’t sent images or come across images of organisations using birds of prey in the public domain with poor basic welfare standards. We have blogged about this previously referring to many outfits as ‘poke and stroke’ in relation to the way they allow people to handle and stroke their birds to make money. Raptor Aid has contacted countless local authorities, event organisers and venue owners trying to highlight the poor practices and welfare standards they are allowing to take place.  Sadly for the most part our efforts come to a dead end. It might come as no surprise that when we go direct to the owners of the birds our advice and concerns are often met with aggression and animosity – no one likes to be told they are in the wrong and have their livelihood threatened – Raptor Aid believes anyone who works with animals in any form should follow best practice and welfare guidelines along with reviewing how they manage and work with their birds.

So where does this ‘poke and stroke’ mentality come from? Is it as bad as we make it out to be? And if so what is Raptor Aids answer to the problem? In this blog, we aim to answer these questions and more (Get comfy it’s a long blog!!).

Birds of prey in captivity and commercial use

To those with little knowledge of birds of prey (BOP) in captivity this has been going on for centuries, more correctly known as falconry, the art of hunting with a bird of prey. These techniques are now used for training any bird of prey in captivity. When I first had an interest in captive birds of prey around 18 years ago there was, to my knowledge, only two bird of prey centres in the North West. Individual falconers were very secretive and kept to themselves. You needed a contact or be fortunate to know someone well enough to gain access to this world. I also remember the price of birds being higher than present day with Harris Hawks fetching between £800-1400 and Goshawks over £2000. During those 18 years, I have seen a remarkable change in not only the use of BOP but the price the birds fetch.

The problem begins with who can own a bird of prey – anyone can! You could go out tomorrow and buy yourself a Barn owl or Harris hawk and sadly there are no laws or legislation to stop you or to check your knowledge of how to care for the bird. The only paperwork that is required is proof that the bird is captive bred (known as an article 10) this is provided by the breeder on collection of the bird and is in place to control the trade in wild BOP. However not all birds of prey need an article 10 or any form of identification (Leg ring/microchip). This has seen a huge increase in BOP being bred for commercial profit and has led to the increased use of birds to make money commercially with little legislation. Due to the relative ease of captive breeding the value of many species has fallen, Barn owls can be bought for as little as £50, Harris hawks as low as £150 and Goshawks less than £500.

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One of many

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Hatchimal’s – Top selling toy Xmas 2016 and more expensive than the above living Barn owl!!

In the North West 18 years on, you can easily find 10 bird of prey centres ranging in size and quality and a similar number of freelance organisations that have no base, these are the ones that have the fewest restrictions and often cause the most concern. Bird of prey centres that are open to the public for more than 7 days in a calendar year must have a Zoo Licence, this a legal requirement with an inspection carried out by a government inspector. However, a Zoo Licence isn’t a necessary requirement for public BOP displays. If you see a public display with BOP that you are concerned about it is worth asking if they have visitor centre, as the council is obligated to investigate complaints for licenses they grant.

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Who benefits most?

The easy availability of birds has seen a rise in organisations using birds of prey for public displays and talks. These can appear in many guises from commercial services like handling sessions and flying displays, or sanctuaries and rescues who are claiming to work for the birds in their care, including wild birds of prey. Anyone using animals commercially should be scrutinised for what educational and conservation message they are giving out. In Raptor Aid’s opinion animals should not be used SOLELY just to make money and as humans we should have moved past this idea of looking at animals in captivity purely for our enjoyment and pleasure. Don’t be afraid to question any organisation on their conservation and education credentials. BOP rescue is often a common reason for asking the public for money in the form of donations using captive BOP and again you should not be afraid to ask about their credentials. If they are asking for donations are they a registered charity? If not then we would advise against handing over your money unless they can show complete transparency. If they claim to work with wild birds of prey they should not have any wild birds on display, this is against the law. If they are raising money for captive bred birds of prey they have rescued again you should ask yourself, where is my donation going? If they are not a charity then they don’t have anyone to answer to so can spend your donation on whatever they like. Often these types of organisations allow handling of the birds for a small fee with the chance to stroke them & take photographs. You must ask yourself who is this really for and is it going to directly benefit the birds? There are several issues with this which we will address in more detail below.

Location – Why are they there?

The chances are the organisation are in attendance as an added attraction to an event or venue. Professional well-presented organisations are now being squeezed out by bad organisations because the latter don’t charge a fee to attend but will make money from the public by charging for activities like holding a bird. The former organisations may charge £250 or more to be in attendance but this is for a reason – it costs money to run a professional BOP display team. Sadly, event organisers don’t take this into account and now shun the professional set ups for the free option. Often organisations may claim to be a not-for-profit organisation, charitable or Community Interest Company – these are used to put your mind at ease but unless they have a registered charity number then you can never be sure where your money is going. The venues that birds of prey are now being used in are of concern for Raptor Aid, in our opinion town centres, outside supermarkets and even in cinemas are stressful environments for birds of prey. These are chosen because of the large volume of visitors for making money.

Donations

Britain is supposed to be a nation of animal lovers and Raptor Aid sees this being abused by some organisations showing BOP in public. Some organisations just ask straight up for a donation for the upkeep of their birds – captive bred birds of prey that are not wild rescues that the public are duped into thinking they are helping in some way when they may just be funding someone’s hobby. Giving a small donation or paying for a picture with a bird is often done with cash, which can be a tricky thing to keep track of. Raptor Aid questions how much of this money is taxed if the organisation is not registered as a company or charity. We have also seen many organisation using the birds to fundraise for other charitable causes and whilst this might seem like a noble thing to do it does not mean the welfare of the birds should be any less important.

Poor equipment and husbandry

As stated running a professional bird of prey team is expensive which is why you should expect to pay £250 upwards for a professional display. Many of the bad organisations cut corners on things like insurance, equipment, diet, and out-of-site housing. Birds in poor feather condition, sat on inappropriate and dangerous perches wearing badly fitting equipment are just some of the things we often see that might not be obvious to the public. Also of concern is the way the birds are handled, birds of prey do not suit being cuddled and laid on their backs. They possess sharp talons so using bare hands or perching on people’s heads and shoulders is not only dangerous but bad practice.

The birds’ needs

Some of the basic needs for a bird of prey when on display include being provided with a suitable comfortable perch, fresh water for bathing or drinking, shelter from the elements (gazebo etc), barrier or fence from the public and to be free from stress from the other birds and any surrounding activity. It is difficult not to get too anthropomorphic about animals but instead we should try to be sympathetic to their natural requirements. Birds of prey are predators who in the wild would try to avoid humans at all costs, a captive BOP although trained to accept humans as part of their life, and build up trust, still need to be shown respect. They are not animals that we believe enjoy or benefit from being handled or stroked by lots of people continuously and owls are often the ones that must deal with this the most. Despite what you are told just because a captive bred owl is hand reared does not mean it enjoys being touched by multiple people, owls especially are one of the more secretive group of birds. We have heard all sorts of excuses about how stroking birds on the back of the head or with the back of your hand doesn’t harm the feathers – this is rubbish! Continual stroking of any bird’s feathers will damage their delicate structure and is purely for human enjoyment.

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A catalog of poor welfare and husbandry

What’s good practice

When it comes to bird of prey displays you certainly get what you pay for. A well set up public display of BOP should include well trained, settled birds sat on suitable perches well-spaced apart from each other with access to drinking and bathing water, underneath an appropriate shelter on a suitable surface (grass) in an appropriate area (field or park). The company should also be able to show if requested copies of relevant insurance, performing animals licence and animal transport licence at any event. Species specific signs are also a good thing to have in place for the public to read and trained members of staff on hand to answer questions. Public handling and participation in anyway should be avoided at any public event for the safety of the birds and the public as explained above. Any flying displays should be well choreographed with an entertaining and educational dialogue. Most of the above might seem like common sense and you would expect any organisation to have all of this at the forefront of their mind, but sadly as many images and personal experience have shown, this is not the case and it is getting worse.

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A well presented display with no public handling is both educational and exciting!

What’s the answer?

The answer for Raptor Aid is simple in theory but not so in action, current legislation needs to be reviewed including the performing animals licence and zoo licence act. Travelling bird of prey teams should either be included in the zoo licence act or have specific legislation brought in to cover their requirements. Another move would be to bring in a licensing scheme for breeders of birds of prey and subsequently prospective buyers thinking of owning birds of prey. This we appreciate would be no easy task with many hurdles but the current status of buying and selling birds of prey needs addressing. Sadly, these suggestions cannot be easily actioned without more pressure on the government. What we can do is to continue gathering evidence and lobby event organisers and venues on what they should expect and what is good practice. We have tried to talk to the BOP organisations directly and unsurprisingly they don’t want to know. Sadly, many organisers and venues including local authorities are very closed to the ideas we present them. It appears that to some, the customer or event are more important than the welfare of animals, and it would cause too much inconvenience to pull an attraction based on information they don’t understand or want to understand. We have developed guidelines for both event organisers and venues and will be sending these out and offering training for local authorities and any other organisation who are receptive.

How can you help?

In some small way, you have helped by reading this. The next step would be to keep your eyes open and share what you have read here with friends and family. Every week Raptor Aid is approached by professionals who, despite carrying out their work in a professional manner, are suffering at the hands of others with poor standards. At the end of the day this is about the birds and how they are cared for and used commercially. If you wish to receive a copy of our guidelines please just drop us a message and feel free to share it widely. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and should you still not be happy then feel free to forward what you have seen to us and we will follow it up by contacting the organisers or venue. Information worth noting includes:

  • Name of the company in attendance with the birds
  • Date of event and name of event
  • Location
  • Images of the birds and display
  • If you asked any questions their responses
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Your help is critical!

This isn’t going to go away overnight but it is something that needs to be addressed and changed as soon as possible. Every year hundreds of birds of prey are taken around village fetes, summer shows, town centres and shopping centres, children’s birthday parties and schools with little regard for the basic requirements and welfare needs for the birds – often the birds are the last thing to be thought about.