Looking out for Scotland's birds of prey

At the end of September 2013 a buzzard was discovered by Project Raptor under a tree, just yards from a pheasant release pen in the Angus Glen area, two miles north of Nathro. A release pen is an enclosed area where hundreds of pheasants are temporarily placed which have just arrived from a rearing farm before they are let out onto the estate to be shot.There may be several dozen of these pens throughout an estate and some estates may hold several thousand pheasants ready for the shooting season.

The dead bird was removed by Tayside police in October. In November, Project Raptor contacted Tayside Police to find out if a cause of death had been established. Tayside police replied and informed us that they had not managed to have the bird x-rayed yet due to an issue with the wildlife officer’s vehicle, i.e., that it had broken down and it appears that there were no other vehicles to transport the bird and a second bird, found later the same day, to the location where they could be x-rayed. The birds were at a police station being kept in a freezer until the police officer had the opportunity to take them to be examined.

In March of this year Project Raptor phoned Tayside Police and contact was finally made with the wildlife officer who was dealing with both incidents and we were given the final results for the first bird that we had found in Angus in September. We were told that due to decomposition of the buzzard it was decided not to test for poison and also that no evidence for shot gun pellets were detected during x-ray examination. However, Project Raptor was also informed that the x-ray itself was inconclusive as some objects were seen on x-ray similar to shot pellets, but may have been grit. Further, there appears to have been some confusion in physically finding these objects and so the final conclusion was unknown cause of death. Project Raptor believes that the fact that this bird had decomposed so much from when it was originally discovered will certainly have had a role to play in the final result.

It is very concerning in this case that the x-ray operator was not a qualified vet or a person who was qualified to x-ray animals. We are unable here to give the location of where raptors, suspected to have been unlawfully killed, are being x-rayed but Why Tayside Police do not use a qualified vet to examine animals when they are trying to establish a cause of death is unclear, but we believe may be down to financial constraints. However, surely using a qualified vet who may have years of experience in x-raying animals as well as a good knowledge of animal anatomy and so understanding and interpreting the x-ray images better is preferable to somebody who does not have these skills, no matter how well their intentions?

Decomposition can be extremely fast up on the hills of Scotland, with dead bird carcasses rotting to almost bone within two to three weeks of death. This is why that it is imperative, to preserve evidence, that when a raptor is reported to the police that they retrieve the bird immediately. Although evidence shows that high numbers of raptors are being unlawfully killed in Scotland every year, the actual discovery of these birds is very rare and often accidental and so it should be a priority to go and retrieve the evidence as soon as possible before it either goes missing or the bird has decomposed to such a level that the chance of getting evidence from it is seriously diminished. Other evidence around the area, which may suggest how the bird died, could also disappear if action isn’t taken promptly and if poison is involved then there will be an immediate risk to public health as well as to other wildlife, pets and livestock.

A second bird, a buzzard, was retrieved on the same day by the Tayside wildlife police officer. It had been discovered on farmland in Caputh, approximately thirty seven miles from the first buzzard found that day. Although the bird was extremely decomposed, it was later established that it had been unlawfully shot.

The date on which the cause of death was finally established for both birds is not clear but Project Raptor was informed of the results of these two birds on the 25th of March, after making contact with the investigating officer.

In addition to these two birds, information from a Project Raptor volunteer was received that two buzzards were discovered on the Angus Glens in June and September of 2013, close to the first buzzard reported here, two miles from Nathro. The first bird in the volunteer’s account was a buzzard found in June and stuffed into a rabbit hole. It was later confirmed to have been shot. The second bird, again a buzzard, was found in September on the side of a track. It looked as though it had only been dead several hours before it was discovered. Frustratingly, the bird had decomposed to such a degree by the time it was examined that apparently it was not possible to test it for poisoning. However, the official conclusion as to the cause of death was probable starvation, but due to the extremely poor condition of the bird when it was examined, this result could not be confirmed for definite, although the person who first came across the bird described the buzzard as looking in very good condition.

Project Raptor will always strive when it can to give exact locations to where incidents of raptor persecution have been detected during our field initiatives. Of course, any information relating to precise location details will be shared only after any investigations by the authorities have been concluded. We believe that everybody should know where these crimes are taking place, but in some circumstances, in order to prevent compromising any future field actions, particularly in some cases where an investigation or detection of a suspected crime has come to nothing, we may have to hold back on the exact location. We will however, in the future, be reporting on the general detail of a case as soon as it is ok to do so and does not compromise any investigations.

Project Raptor is fully aware that those who perpetrate crimes against raptors will be looking at us to learn about how we operate and study the details of certain reports that we publish and so we have to be very mindful of this. However, we continue to be committed to sharing our findings with you and will carry on to deliver our three main objectives, which are to educate, inform and encourage debate.

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