There was an excited call from my wife the other day when she spotted from our upstairs skylight a large bird in our neighbour’s garden. It turned out to be a Buzzard (Buteo buteo) standing slightly hunched and initially motionless in the grass. After a while it walked slowly to perch on a bench. On closer inspection with the neighbour it seemed unwilling or unable to fly even in the presence of two sizable Tom cats. Sadly a few hours later it died.So what could have been the cause of death? My immediate thought was that it had hit the ground too hard whilst chasing prey or had taken a glancing blow from a car on the nearby A road, before coming to rest in the garden. However a friend informed me that there would appear to be a lot of poisoning of birds of prey occurring in Devon. There are certainly a lot of young pheasants to protect in our area and an over-zealous gamekeeper might be tempted to break the law. This is supported by the RSPB’s latest Birdcrime Report (RSPB, 2012), which shows Devon to be one of the worst areas in the UK for confirmed persecution of birds of prey. On this basis I rang the 'Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme' (PBMS), who take in suspected cases of poisoning for analysis. However the chap I spoke to felt our Buzzard’s was more likely to be the result of injuries from a collision that had enabled the bird to initially fly away but later suffer from internal bleeding. He said this was supported by a number of specimens that had been sent into them and that without circumstantial evidence it would be hard to prove anything.
This is clearly an awful tragedy for the individual bird and we will never know now what caused its death. However the backdrop is of a bird species that has been very successful over recent years expanding into/returning to many areas of Britain. We appear to have a very strong local population and are lucky to have daily experiences of them perched or soaring over the landscape.
Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme – See https://wiki.ceh.ac.uk/display/pbms/HomeRSPB (2012) BIRDCRIME 2011 - Offences against wild bird legislation in 2011[Online]. http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/Birdcrime_2011_edit_tcm9-324819.pdf [Accessed 20/02/13]