Cats and sparrowhawks among the pigeons

Gary Burgess posted a comment on this blog on 18 February on a rather old blog and I thought that few would notice what he had written and so I offered him the chance of a Guest Blog to air his views more prominently.  I’m really glad that Gary took up the offer but I really didn’t expect it to generate quite so much heat – but it’s also generated some light, I think.

I’d also like to thank all the people, particular pigeon racers/fanciers for your comments, but Mike Price and Andrew Kyle deserve special recognition for their contributions.

I’ve learned a lot from reading all these comments, and I know, from a private email that he sent me, that Gary has also found it very useful in shaping his thoughts.

Some of the comments came across as very ‘them and us’ in character and so, although I’m sure it’s obvious, I’d better say that I have no interest in pigeon racing and practically no knowledge of how the whole thing is run or organised.  It’s another world to me, and not a world that I’ve ever wanted to find out more about, whereas the natural world has always fascinated me.  Having said that, I can understand that if I did breed, look after and race pigeons then losses to birds of prey would be extremely irritating and sometimes upsetting.  I recognise that from the pigeon fanciers’ perspective there is a real problem and that if I were in their position I would be keen to find a solution too.

But the whole point of letting pigeons go a long way from home and seeing how quickly they come back is that it’s a battle against the dangers that the world throws in the pigeon’s way – whether they be bad weather, peregrine falcons or collisions with pylons or buildings.  And yes, peregrine falcon and sparrowhawk numbers have increased over our lifetimes (not because people have been reintroducing them but because they have been recovering from being poisoned by agricultural pesticides) and so the hazards from these two natural species have no doubt increased.  I’m not sure that there is much that can be done about the dangers of the race.  Certainly few will be sympathetic to a general cull of protected wildlife just so that losses of racing pigeons might be reduced a little. Were the 1960s and 1970s the high point of pigeon racing? If so, maybe that’s because there were artificially few sparrowhawks and peregrines in those decades.

The problem of sparrowhawks taking pigeons in the vicinity of lofts seems to me to be one where we should concentrate on finding some sort of solution.  Are problems worst at particular times of day?  Or particular times of year?  Are all lofts in an area equally susceptible or does the surrounding habitat, proximity to buildings, aspect or other factors have an impact? Are some types of pigeons more vulnerable than others – young ones? males? females? white ones? brown ones? heavy ones? Can anything be learned from this? I don’t know any of the answers to these questions – does anybody else? And do those answers help suggest measures that can be taken to reduce the risk at all?  I’d be interested to know.

A few words of advice to pigeon fanciers – including some who have posted comments on this site:

  • don’t exaggerate sparrowhawk numbers – yes they have increased a lot in my lifetime but that’s because they were poisoned by farm chemicals in the 1950s and 1960s and their populations were clobbered.  And yes, sparrowhawk numbers went up between 2009 and 2010 according to the results of the annual Breeding Bird Surveys (some years they go up and some they go down) but the medium term trend from 1995 to 2009 is for stability in numbers (actually a non-significant decrease) in the UK as a whole (and for England).  We aren’t knee-deep in sparrowhawks and we never will be, just as we aren’t knee deep in blue tits either.  Nature’s like that and you will look foolish if you suggest otherwise.  You will lose the sympathy of those birders who are sympathetic to your plight if you get your facts wrong.
  • don’t drag songbirds into the argument unless you are prepared to address the science that has been done on the subject.  I can see that if you feel that sparrowhawks are a big problem to your sport then it is convenient to paint them as bigger villains but the science, so far (and lots has been done), doesn’t remotely back up the ‘raptors are wiping out songbirds’ argument.  If you trot this out it will be another reason why sympathetic birders will lose sympathy with your plight for they will think that you are just generalised raptor haters.
  • don’t slag off nature conservation organisations unless you can get your facts right, because, again, that will make you look as though you are anti-raptor and anti-nature conservation whereas I am sure that most of you are not.
  • don’t get too friendly with grouse shooters or Songbird Survival – their ‘issues’ are different from yours (in so many ways).

I have sympathy for the impact that raptors have on pigeon fanciers’ sport and legitimate pastime.  I don’t know what the solution is – but then I don’t know much about pigeons and keeping them so I’m not likely to be the best person to ask.  But this is essentially a clash between a human sport and nature.  If those with the problem come across as anti-raptor, anti-nature conservation and in the end, anti-nature,  then many will lose interest in their legitimate concerns.  I don’t know whether this sport/nature conflict is soluble – I hope it is – and maybe if we work together it can be.



109 Replies to “Cats and sparrowhawks among the pigeons”

  1. Whilst working at Symonds Yat last summer, I incurred the wrath of several pigeon racers, who told me that ‘my’ Peregrines were responsible for decimating their beloved birds. Due to their aggressive nature, I found it hard to sympathise with their plight. What I did tell them though, was that Peregrines have been around a lot longer than racing pigeons and therefore the latter was entering the former’s domain.

    Ironically, it was pigeon racers demanding that the government cull Peregrines in the 1960s, that led to a census which subsequently highlighted their plight.

    1. Because people have passion in what they do and truly care for these animals they raise ,you have no Sympathy and merely blame it on nature?? Look around, cities, roads, airplanes and civilization is all around us and in has to be incorporate with nature. We move streams, relocate wild life all the time.
      Bet you would be screaming if that little lap dog of yours was mauled by a large predatory animal in front of you. You would be calling for everyone to rally.
      Do us all a favor and try thinking about the feelings of individuals other than yourself before you comment….

  2. Mark,

    It was without doubt one of the most interesting posts so far this year and has certainly helped me to focus my efforts and form an educated opinion on how to address the issue if it where to arise in my day job. Which at some point it no doubt will…

    I wonder if it may be a worthwhile exercise getting a fisherman / inland fishery owner to do a guest blog about the current conflict between conservationists and the fishing community over the come back of the otter and the increasing cormorant populations. I suspect that would have simulary passionate views on both sides.


    David Hicks

    1. David – you should watch this blog for a Guest Blog on fishing and conservation – coming soon.

      1. Mark,

        I would be very interested in a blog about small sea-fisheries. Although completely off-topic to this blog, I would like to gauge your perception of the industry as a whole.

        I have a degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge, and a Masters in Wildlife Management and Conservation from the University of Reading.

        I am currently working as a fisherman in Cornwall with my father, who has about 45 years experience in the industry. As far as I have been involved, I have found no cause for concern over stock levels, indeed, I have considered them to be rather something of a marvel.


        Rebecca Blamey

        1. I’m currently reading ‘The unnatural history of the sea; the past and future of humanity and fishing’ by Callum Roberts (University of York, 2007) – and if he’s right then most of our seas (globally) are pretty much devastated from centuries of over-fishing and destruction of marine habitats. The baselines from which we measure ‘sustainability’ of fish stocks are based only on recent figures, and do not reflect the populations of fish, sea mammals, birds, chelonians, molluscs and crustacea that were present before people exerted their pressures upon them – well before the 20th century. I think we have every reason to be worried about stock levels, and the prevarication of government to progress on designating viable and robust marine conservation zones.

  3. Thanks for that Mark.
    I do agree with what you had to say and it was a fair comment.
    Pigeon fanciers and the sport of pigeon racing is a very traditional pastime. It is also Governed to enable us to carry out pigeon racing, we do have to adhere to certain regulations imposed on us by DEFRA, we have certain guidelines that we have to follow.
    It’s not just simply a case of buying some pigeons and locking them into a shed and letting them breed so the will be able to be let out and return to the shed.
    Every pigeon fancier has to be registered to an association and every ring purchased has to be allocated to the said fancier, this bird is then deemed to become the fanciers property and responsibility.
    Each fancier has legal duty of care to his birds.
    These birds have to remain free from disease and have to be vaccinated every year against certain diseases and a witnessed vaccination certificate has to be filled in and retained to be produced to any official, if requested. This not only ensures that the racing pigeon remains in good health, but also prevents the spread of disease to certain wildlife.
    Keeping pigeons in good health is a constant battle and a costly one at that.
    Pigeons can pick up a number of diseases from contact with wildlife.
    Another misconception is about pigeons carrying diseases that that can affect humans.
    This has been totally blown out of proportion over the years and pigeons do actually pose very little threat to humans. One disease that can be contacted from pigeons and is extremely rare is Psittacosis (also known as ornithosis or parrot fever) is a rare infectious disease that mainly affects parrots and parrot-like birds such as cockatiels, and parakeets, but may also affect other birds, such as pigeons. When bird droppings dry and become airborne people may inhale them and get sick.
    In humans, this bacterial disease is characterized by: fatigue, fever, headache, rash, chills, and sometimes pneumonia. Symptoms develop about 10 days after exposure. Psittacosis can be treated with a common antibiotic.
    If this disease was going to be contracted by anyone then this would in fact be contacted by the fanciers themselves.
    The affects on the racing pigeon from wildlife is becoming a constant worry. The issues raised by fanciers, is indeed a very real one. The main concern at the moment for many, is the constant attacks on their pigeon lofts, by Sparrowhawks. But many of these debates tend to digress into other issue, which opens a whole can worms and tends to confuse the issue, so no progress is ever made.
    When pigeons are released from a transporter, they are on many occasions attacked by Peregrines which does hinder the race and pigeons are lost. This is something that should be should be looked at in great detail by the Racing Pigeon Associations and Unions themselves and maybe some evasive approaches could be taken, these being the alteration of liberation sites where the pigeons are released. Adjusting the racing season, so it doesn’t coincide the Raptors breeding season. These are all actions that could be undertaken by the organisations themselves. As this may prove a positive step to reducing the losses of pigeons while racing.
    In my eyes this is not the most pressing use although it a worry, that needs addressing by the fanciers themselves.
    The most pressing issue at the moment, is the sparrowhawk issue as this has now become a great cause for concern and one that does need addressing. I also do agree with what has been previously mentioned, that the use of the songbird should not be used to paint the picture of the Sparrowhawk.
    All studies and surveys are now aged and are inadequate and so we need to provide new evidence of these attacks upon racing pigeons at their lofts. We do have to highlight potential hotspots, once this has been achieved, I don’t see why us fanciers cannot also become involved in doing studies and working with other groups and agencies. This would also reduce the time and financial burdens imposed on compiling such studies and assessing the true numbers of Sparrowhawk populations in certain areas.
    Mike Price came up with a great Idea on my blog and really he should be praised for this. Fanciers could work with ringing groups in close proximity to pigeon lofts with a catch release ringing study, this would also show a true picture of Sparrowhawks in proximity to pigeon lofts and also give a clearer picture of how their territorial behaviour has changed to accommodate their population increases in greater saturated areas. This sort of study could be of great benefit to all parties involved and could partly contribute to seeking a possible solution to this pressing issue.

    1. Gary – thank you very much for the detail and the tone of your reply. I wonder what others think? Positive comments and suggestions would be very welcome here.

  4. In the late 1970s there were very few peregrines around and those that did attempt to nest were heavily persecuted by egg collectors. I spent a 6 week period living in a barn in Yorkshire protecting a peregrine nest site. This was a great opportunity to observe the behaviour of these birds. Every weekend the peregrines changed their behaviour and went on overhead patrol looking out for flocks of racing pigeons ( saturdays being the day of the week when most pigeon races were held) and several flocks of pigeons would fly down this particular valley. I saw the peregrines quite often bringing dead pigeons back to the nest site and secreting the excess carcasses in various stores among the rocky scree below the nest. Both of the peregrine pair hunted at this time.
    I only actually saw three or four kills of pigeons by peregrines and each time the peregrines would stoop from some height and normally hit the pigeon, which was pretty well unaware of any approaching danger until the last minute. If I remember correctly the last bird in the flock was often the victim. I believe that at this time the pigeon fanciers changed the venues where they released their birds so that the flocks did not pass close by peregrine nest sites.
    Rock doves and jackdaws invariably nest on cliffs in close proximity to nesting peregrines and appear to live in harmony. Perhaps racing pigeons are bred too much for speed and not enough for common sense and ability to avoid predators.

    1. DavidH – interesting comment. I remember watching a female peregrine sitting on the Houses of Parliament one day. There were lots of feral pigeons around – this is central London. I saw one pigeon in the distance flying in my direction and there was something about it that made me think it was a weaker pigeon, and I wondered wehther the peregrine would go for it. And she did. I didn’t see the outcome as they passed behind buildings but it made me think that I could perhaps aspire to be a peregrine in another life. Rather that than a pigeon methinks.

      1. Hi all, new to this “debate”………firstly could Mark explain something which has got me very puzzled, you stated in your post ” I saw one pigeon in the distance flying in my direction and there was something about it that made me think it was a weaker pigeon,”

        Could you explain what actually you saw, which made you think this pigeon was weaker than the rest of the pigeons, bearing in mind this pigeon was in the distance flying towards you…….., and in what way would you suggest it was weak, damage to the wing, or some other physical condition ? or maybe you thought this “feral” pigeon could possibly have canker, coccidiosis, worms, or even respiratory problems ?

        May i say, with thiis ability and insight to the condition of a bird based purely on a glimps of a pigeon in the distance, you have missed your way……… have the potential to be a very good avian vet, could you also manage to note the age and sex of the bird ?

        1. DavidL – welcome to this blog. I’m not that sure what i saw actually – it was a few years ago. but I do remember thinking at the time that it looked a bit different – I think it somehow looked ‘flappier’ – it seemed to put more effort and get less speeed out of its flaps. If that makes any sense at all.

      2. hi new to blogging…
        mark your comment regarding the weaker pigeon:- maybe you need to be enlightend as i was, just maybe that pigeon wasn’t on a inland race, hence thats why it was on its own, shorter races pigeons normally stay as a flock upto the home end, maybe it has done a 600 + mile race lets say from barcelona, it wouldnt be flappier, because as a distance pigeon will pace its self and poor pigeon just done 600+ miles on the home front and to be dinner
        most fanciers live around towns when was it natural mother nature for peregrines to bred let alone hunt around towns

        1. mrs susan smith — welcome to this blog and thank you for your comment. That pigeon – I think it was probably a feral pigeon rather than a racing pigon actually.

  5. Some good points there David.
    Your right the Peregrines do hunt in pairs, I have witnessed this first hand. Where one of the pair constantly flies up into a flock to try to break up the pack of pigeons this can go on for quite some time, but once one does break from the pack then it is swooped upon from up above by the second Peregrine and taken.
    But this is something that is out of our hands and is not the pressing issue that many fanciers are at this very moment facing on a daily basis on their lofts.
    Although I do agree that some evasive measures should be given some considerable thought.
    Also it is a common fact that peregrine numbers have been most successful, very near to pigeon liberation sites.

  6. It’s really encouraging for me as a member of the Hawk and Owl Trust to read these comments and see pigeon fanciers who are willing to enter into dialogue with conservation groups. As with most things, it’s talking and listening to each other that will bring about the most productive strategies.

  7. Gary,you have my sympathy and hope you find a answer that helps,commend you for what appears to me that you are a moderate.Must add that I have no sympathy with those extremists in pigeon racing or indeed extremists on raptor side so hopefully as long as the moderates keep talking progress will be made,good luck.

  8. Thanks Gaina and Dennis, your comments are extremely welcome and encouraging. I also agree Dennis, there are extremist on both sides and this I do not feel that attacking each other is really the way forward. Since my Blog, I have had some time to digest the comments that were made by everyone and to be honest it made me think as well as open my eyes a little.

  9. Thanks Mark for your mention in the introduction, but I am sure I didn’t participate to that degree, most certainly not from a knowledgeable position.
    I am a pigeon fancier of some 3 years. I am extremely ignorant of the situation with regards to the effects of wildlife and their interaction with my pigeons. I do know that I have had pigeons return from races with obvious evidence of attacks by Birds of prey and this has been laid at the feet of the peregrine falcon.
    As previously stated, this is one of the many hazzards that they have to face in their attempts to return. I am not qualified to make any further comments in regards to this, never having witnessed an attack or the ensueing chaos which is the reported outcome. As Gary states, we have the ability to alter race points away from known high density areas and to alter our season to avoid high danger times as in the run up to breeding and the training of fledglings. No doubt, we would require some knowledgeable input in this matter.
    I thank Mike Price for the knowledge and ideas he has imparted on the previous blog pages and I feel somewhat more informed especially regarding the numbers issues. Sparrowhawks are a problem around my loft so any information will be most appreciated.
    I will be happy to continue debating and hope my observations remain helpful.

  10. Many people believe that Peregrines will take the weakest pigeon. This is incorrect. Most will go for the leading bird. Peregrines love to take racing pigeons because they’re so predictable. Last summer at Symonds Yat, our female falcon picked off six racing pigeons within half an hour, caching them in the cliffs as she went on.

    Jackdaws are believed to nest near Peregrines for a number of reasons. Firstly, they act as an early warning system for the falcons. Secondly, the small crows make easy target practice for the young eyasses. Thirdly, they are a reliable source of food if things get tough. Lastly, the Jackdaws get a form of protection from the ‘tolerant’ Peregrines, who will see off other raptors in the vicinity of the eyrie.

    1. Ed, it would appear from your post that you own a peregrine and it attacked and caught 6 racing pigeons.
      For your information it is an offense under the law of this land to kill racing pigeons. I am unsure whether this only covers shooting them or whether it also covers setting a bird of prey on them.
      Nevertheless, let me ask you, if indeed the above is correct, how you would feel if a racing pigeon fancier set his European eagle owl upon and killed your falcon? I do not think you would be best pleased about it. Let me further ask you what benefit you feel your post has given to this particular blog, given that it has been stated by Mark that we should attempt to direct our observations towards the problem of Sparrowhawks and their attacks around the lofts? I appreciate that you have stated that you do not think they attack the weakest and perhaps your observations were only to prove that point, but let me assure you, that as racing pigeon fanciers, we are only too well aware that they do not concentrate on the weakest. Why are we so aware of this fact? We are so because established national race winning fanciers are subjected to attacks just as much as ordinary fanciers and both sections of fanciers lose their best birds to the birds of prey, in some cases these birds are the irreplaceable result of over 40 years breeding.
      This is a very emotive subject we are debating for these very reasons and I ask that all contributors bear this in mind before posting. Consider exactly what you are about to post and how it affects those who read it.

      1. Andrew – Ed is talking about the peregrines at Symonds Yat where there is a peregrine viewing scheme – that’s why he regards them as ‘his’ peregrines. He doesn’t own peregrines and doesn’t fly them at pigeons. Your misunderstanding is interesting because it illustrates the ease with which the two ‘sides’ can get the wrong end of each others’ sticks and the emotions that lie near the surface. Someone who shows wild birds to the public every day of the summer can feel, perhaps, every bit as attached to them as can someone who owns a ‘captive’ bird. Ed wasn’t winding you up – this was a genuine misunderstanding, but one that tells us something about how people feel about the issue.

      2. Exactly Andrew, the hawks do NOT take the weakest bird, whereas cats most certainly do. I have just come onto the web to try to find a site that is in favour of some kind of cull for the ever increasing sparrow hawks after seeing, in a blur, a hawk just swoop past my kitchen window and take yet another blackbird. My garden is now bereft of blue tits after maintaining a good fifteen or more through the winter. It used to be that it was a pleasure to see a sparrow hawk dive into a bush in the garden to take a bird, but now I see them as rats, a scourge to the wildlife. I have no knowledge of pigeons I’m just one of those women who has always enjoyed helping garden birds to prosper in our not so helpful ‘countryside’. As for, “And yes, peregrine falcon and sparrowhawk numbers have increased over our lifetimes (not because people have been reintroducing them)” Sorry but the birds have been introduced, and also had special nest boxes placed alongside motorways and other places to encourage their breeding.

  11. Once again Mark and Gary – many thanks for a great debate. It introduced some extreme viewpoints at times but I think this will always happen in such situations. Like many nature lovers, I have pets and if I lost them I would be devastated so I do sympathise.
    The main postive that I have taken from this debate is that there should be a concerted reasearch into ways of preventing Sparrowhawk attacks at the lofts using scaring techniques and technology. I think peregrines are a much different situation and it’s very difficult to mitigate losses to birds doing what they do best – flying home.

    I found and rehabilitated two racing pigeons last year and both had become too weak to fly. Their breast bones were protruding and they needed feed and care before they could again fly. I don’t want to be controversial but could there be a case that some birds are too lean to really sustain the race or is it just because they get lost and can’t feed for themselves they become much more vunerable to attacks from BoP, cats and foxes?

    1. Some good points there Robin, over the past ten years there have been many scare objects been put onto the market. A lot of these companies make huge claims than these items work well. But apart from them mostly being useless, I think many companies are exploiting the fancier and his efforts for protecting his birds from predators such as the Sparrowhawk.
      Sometimes these often quite expensive products only work for a very short time until the Sparrowhawk becomes used to them, then we are back to square one again.
      Another observation that has been made very recently, is that the Sparrowhawk has now began to lose it’s fear of man. As many attacks just recently have occurred very close to the fanciers themselves, this too is becoming a great worry.
      I know it’s very hard to explain in detail, the fear, panic and desperation that a fancier feels when in this position where a sparrowhawk flies right past you and strikes into your birds in full view.
      We can yell and scream to try and scare away their attacker, but this too seems to be having a very limited effect of late.
      A little bit about the anatomy of a pigeon.
      The pigeon stores it’s energy from it’s food into animal fats, these fats are stored into the breast of the pigeon to act like a fuel store. Feeding pigeons the right diet for the distance they fly is an art in itself.
      But when a pigeons is forced off course it can become what we call flown out. As it uses all it’s breast muscles for energy and this is why they become down on weight. On the right diet it doesn’t take long to bring them back round for them to retain the this muscle mass.

  12. Here lies another another problem, that not only does the conservationist know very little about the pigeon fancier, the pigeon fancier knows very little about the conservationist. OK there are those who love to see the magnificent birds fly and may even take pleasure at seeing them take their quarry, but also there are those who also cringe at the mere sight of a hawk circling their birds as they brace themselves for yet another attack.
    You hit the nail on the head Mark.
    Our passion for birds, does sometimes get confused for something else and here sometimes lies the problem.
    Also Ed may mistake the Peregrines actions for going for the fittest or lead bird.
    A peregrine will never go for the lead bird for obvious reasons apart from it getting rammed by a thousand startled panic stricken pigeons, in which a collision would leave the bird quite possibly injured.
    This swoop towards the lead bird, is not a stoop to take the fittest birds, it’s a ploy to turn the pack. A bit like a sheep dog turning a flock of sheep.
    A racing pigeon in full flight in the right conditions, will attain a speed of over 70mph and will soon take the Peregrine away from it’s territory.
    A peregrine attains his advantage from swooping from a great height, folding in its wings and taking full advantage of the force of gravity and once on its swoop cannot put on its brakes, where a pigeon on the other hand can stall in mid flight to avoid the collision.
    I suggest the next time you see this Ed, think, watch and learn.
    The Peregrine will make large circular swoops, these are not attacks these are simply a ploy to make the birds circle around it’s familiar territory and the Peregrine will always hunt in pairs in this situation.
    I have seen this happen, maybe over a hundred times.
    The bird that flies upwards to try to break the pack is usually the stronger bird and it’s these strikes that injures many birds and tries to weaken them to make them break away from the main pack. It’s not a case of taking the weaker birds, its a case of taking the birds that they have weakened.
    I have also seen more than two pairs attack pigeons being released from transporters and these have made pigeons from different transporters fly into each other to create a huge smash effect, where two or more flocks have collided and caused huge amounts of pigeons to fly to the ground.
    But like I say, every time the word Sparrowhawk and Pigeon gets brought up in a topic, it always tends to digress onto another subject and once again it’s the Peregrine.
    Would it not be fair to say, that very few actually bother to watch or study the Sparrowhawk, would this be because it’s the most common raptor we have here in the UK, or is it that it does not have a great display of skill when ambushing it’s prey. Because it’s not a long drawn out affair.
    It’s a quick dash and smash attack.

  13. Thank you Mark for clarification. Andrew, if you’d read the first post on this thread (mine), perhaps you wouldn’t have got the wrong end of the stick. However, as Mark has pointed out, you’ve rather let your emotions cloud the issue and it’s that sort of attitude that doesn’t endear you to conservationists.

    My personal belief is that if you are going to release racing pigeons into the wild, you are entering the domain of the Peregrine, amongst others. You are running the gauntlet and it’s your choice. The Peregrine is looking for it’s next meal, especially if it has eyasses to feed, to which it has every natural right to do so.

    1. Ed, sorry again, but I did read the first post. Whilst your my was in inverted commas, your introduction of peregrines was off the main topic which Mark has asked us to concentrate on. That topic is Sparrowhawks and loft attacks. I admit to not tying your first post to the post that I answered, but had you read my posts you would have noticed that I have stated my ignorance of many of the facts. You may also have appreciated that I am indeed not being emotive about the subject. Whilst it is upsetting for my birds to be on the receiving end, I accept that this will happen and perhaps the fact that I am a novice is a strength because i have not been subjected to these attacks long enough to become dis-illusioned about the whole pigeon raptor affair.
      I stated a scenario and qualified it using the words that if the above was indeed the case, hardly emotional, more rather a case of presenting a different scenario to encourage a different outlook.
      Rather than cloud the issue I am trying to crystalise the issue. As Gary has also pointed out, we are not debating peregrines, we are debating sparrowhawks and attacks around lofts.
      As I stated at the start within my first post, I can add next to nothing to the discussion, but will attempt to make what I consider valid observations. I understand the emotion that fanciers feel and I also understand that there are many mis-understandings and mis-givings within this whole situation. Remember Gary’s first post met with a lot of animosity from the BOP side before they realised that he was actually asking for help and assistance. I also understand that there were some horrendous comments made by pigeon fanciers.
      I do not seek the endearment of conservationists, but I do expect and seek their respect and understanding that my birds and my hobby matters. It matters a great deal to me and also to the many fanciers throughout the world.
      It is my personal belief that if I am going to release racing pigeons into the wild, I am entering the domain of the Peregrine, amongst others. I am causing my birds to run the gauntlet and it’s my choice. The Peregrine is looking for it’s next meal, especially if it has eyasses to feed, to which it has every natural right to do so.
      That Fact does not deny the need to collaborate with the conservationists, the people who in my eyes have the knowledge that I need, so that I am in a position to reduce these very dangers. To do otherwise would be cold. I am not cold, but care a lot about my birds.
      Peregrines seem to be your expertise, so what we require to know is in what way are we able to avoid them. We feel that if we alter our racing season so that our YB’s are not there when the peregrines are training their eyeasses, I am learning the terminology, then we are protecting them. If we change our release sites away from peregrine sites then we are protecting them. This is the areas where trust then becomes an issue. You may possibly feel that by revealing these places you are pacing the peregrines at risk and I believe there is truth in your argument, but we have to work together and attempt to educate those who would cause harm. it is not going to be easy for either “side”, albeit, I believe we are both on the same “side”.
      Let me re-state, Sparrowhawks are the new cat amongst the pigeons around thee lofts and we are here to debate the ways in which we are able to work together to alleviate the problem for both species, gain a new understanding and respect for each other as humans and aducate those less fortunate than ourselves. The pigeon fanciers about the wonders of the Birds of prey and the conservationists about the wonders of the racing pigeon.

  14. Thank you Gary for your interesting, albeit slightly patronising, post. I spent six months at Symonds Yat, observing Peregrines daily, and was therefore well versed to “think, watch and learn.”

    Due to my own observations, and to quote Derek Radcliffe, “A pigeon leading a race would be likely to be on its own and thus more at risk than any individual in a flock.” No chance of collision with the others. The Peregrine is too smart for that anyway. Even if it did stoop on a flock, the speed at which it would be going (100mph +), is more than adequate to miss a pigeon (50mph).

    1. Ed, we are in danger of point scoring. Gary is experienced, both in nature and racing pigeons. He has been very emotive in the posts on the previous blog and perhaps if Mark could put a link to that, you could read and follow the developments and, I think, mutual respect which has arisen from it.
      We are not trying to fight or point score in this matter. We are genuinely trying to work together to prevent conflict, encourage understanding and somehow move the matter forward so that man and their hobbies are able to run alongside nature without resorting to the archaic outlook that man is the peak predator, so if something gets in our way then we will just kill it.

      1. And please can we develop any debate without resort to anthropomorphism. Or is it teleology? Whatever. Thanks.

        1. Had to look up your big words Filbert, but I did. Sorry if you think that is what I was doing, but I am just a simple guy with an amount of common sense and a fair intellect.
          As stated, I am looking into this debate, as an intersted party, but my interest is actually from both sides. i wish to protect my hobby and my birds, but I wish to so do from a point which is not harmful to nature.
          I see nature as part of the challenge, but not as a part which is to be smashed in some mindless sort of way.

          1. No need to apologise, AK – not aimed at you, but in the general direction of those professing to know what birds think.

  15. Hi Gary, Andrew /all,

    I have spent a little time looking at the paper on the translocation trials that were done in Scotland , and unfortunately it seems that despite the cost (£25,000) there was very little learnt from the study, in particular only 7 Sparrowhawks were relocated (from the 5 of the 15 lofts where this method was trialled) and these were only tracked for 9 days due the battery life of the transmitter.
    Unfortunately at 2 of these lofts an immature female was subsequently caught soon after the relocation of the original bird, as Paul Irving suggested would be the most likely outcome. And at one loft the original Sparrowhawk returned despite being relocated twice .(86km and 87km respectively)

    It does appear that the the study could have been better more detailed, for example.
    4.1.1 Out of a possible 497 days during which the traps could be operated legally (71 days at each of 7 lofts), information was provided only for 90 days. The opening and closing times of the traps were also not reported, rendering it impossible to calculate capture rates of Sparrowhawks per day or hour of trap opening.

    Gary has mentioned that he feels that perhaps the monitoring of Sparrowhawks (because they are so common) may have tailed off or become less intense, I am not entirely sure how this could be measured, but some very good studies have been undertaken on the Sparrowhawk and I believe that if there were any significant changes in their breeding density then the sample areas that are well covered would show this up.

    I worry that you are leading back into some of the arguements that we have left behind with this line of questioning though, rather than concentrating on a solution to the attacks at pigeon lofts, on this note has anyone trialled calls of predators played at infrequent times in the area of the lofts? although I imagine that there could be a problem with the pigeons being stressed by playing an Eagle Owl call for example.

    1. Mike, the eagle owl calls are a method which is now being used. I do not know the outcomes, but if Ian comes back on and gary as well, both should be better qualified to report any findings. as far as I am aware, these audio recordings are having the desired effect.
      I have also gathered from comments made that the sparrowhawk is a very intelligent species and, as nature intended, when something new enters its territory it is obviously wary. Apparently they soon realise that these preventative methods are dummies and no longer fear them. perhaps they view pigeon fanciers in the same light for they do not seem to fear them either, some reporting, as i have done, of near misses to their person. I am sure the sparrowhawk did not regard it as a near miss, but only as a necessary maneuvre to gain their prey, but it does show they have little fear in certain ssituaations or perhaps at certain times of the year.
      Perhaps using all of the many methods at different times and in some form of random rotation would be better effective.

      1. I think that a workable solution will entail continually changing the methods that are used, they could well be getting more tolerant to us, could this be due to this continual introduction of “alien” items that they get used to and are therefore just getting used to ‘our’ methods? My presence in the garden for example does mean that the Sparrowhawk doesn’t visit, but then again the smaller birds are also more reticent so the food source isn’t there for them.
        I have on one occassion been used for cover by a Sparrowhawk in the local NR so that it could attempt to take a Great Spotted Woodpecker but it didn’t get close to its target on that occassion.

        I wonder if habitat management might be usable as control method, I mean without cover to attack from I think the Sparrowhawk would struggle to be as successful in its hunting method, could having lofts in more ‘open’ spaces improve things for the pigeons?
        I am afraid I don’t really know a lot about where lofts are generally located but it might be worth spending some time comparing this vs the frequency of attacks vs frequency of successful kills

        1. Good point Mike, albeit, I think this may have been tried as well, but I know some lofts are on allotments due to lack of space in domestic gardens nowadays. Does this intensity of lofts increase the intensity of sparrowhawks?
          I know Gary is compiling reports of attacks, so perhaps this information could be included on the report. Instead of just report of attack, frequency of attacks, success of attacks or whatever else has to be reported, the venue could bee reported; Allotment with x lofts, private garden with tree cover, no cover, etc.

          1. There are just so many factors that could play a part and the more of them that you can cover the more chance you have of gaining something useful from any study undertaken, the most difficult bit to substantiate will be what happens whilst the birds are free flying I am not sure that part of the equation will ever reach a point where a study could prove or disprove 100% exactly what the level of losses that can be attributed to one cause of another might be (even if you collect all the rings for example who would have a register of everytime any racing pigeons were or could of been expected to be in the area), but with some thought I am sure that you could reasonably cover the losses around the lofts, and hopefully a pattern might develop whereby you can associate the places with higher losses with some common factors, the only problem with any of this is that it takes time and it costs money, and it can be very difficult to get all the people providing all of the information, all of the time

  16. Some pigeon fanciers and their organisations have called for birds of prey, particularly peregrines and sparrowhawks, to be removed or killed to protect their interests. These calls continue despite the results of scientific studies, which clearly and consistently conclude that removal or lethal control is not justified.

    The RSPB remains vigorously opposed to the killing or removal of birds of prey. This position is based on the basic ecology of these species. They are highly sensitive to slight increases in mortality over and above their naturally low death rates. This is illustrated by the former complete extermination of several species within Britain and the removal of others from wide areas of the country where they would otherwise naturally occur. Although there has been substantial recovery by some species – including sparrowhawks – from this historical situation, they remain permanently vulnerable to local extinction. The most recent surveys of the UK
    sparrowhawk population show a slight overall decline (BTO Breeding Bird Survey, 1994-2006).

    The deliberate illegal killing of many bird of prey species is still a widely recognised threat to their long-term conservation status. Last year, 2011, was one of the worst on record for this problem. To legalise the killing or removal of birds of prey by adding to this existing illegal threat would be highly irresponsible. Healthy raptor populations are in any case an indication ofthe health of the environment.

    The RSPB sympathises with those whose pigeons may have been affected by sparrowhawks, but feels that this interest should be safeguarded by ameliorative measures and should not come before the UK’s international responsibility to protect our raptor populations. Pigeon owners must accept there are some natural risks in the environment into which they choose to deliberately release their birds.
    The RSPB encourages racing pigeon organisations to fund research into the effectiveness of methods to deter birds of prey that do not involve killing or other forms of removal, as well as to learn more about the causes of large numbers of pigeons straying – the underlying factor in most pigeon losses. They have offered to advise on this research.


    • Sparrowhawk impacts on racing pigeons are extremely low when compared to other
    factors such as straying, bad weather, domestic cats and collisions.
    • There is no scientific justification for suggesting that the killing or removal of
    sparrowhawks is an appropriate, proportionate response to this issue.

    1. As Mike has pointed out, sparrowhawks have a homing instinct. Relocation only worsens the situation because the territory is no longer guarded and perhaps two or more females could enter it. We must therefore consider behaviour alteration.
      To this end, the fanciers are trying irridescent tape, cd’s, audio calls, balloon eyes, decoy owls and possibly some others.
      Killing the birds of prey is quite rightly an archaic solution to a problem which, if we are the more intelligent species, we should be able, through that intelligence, to come up with other more humane attempts.

  17. Andrew,

    I am not sure that any raptor field worker would be comfortable revealing the location of any breeding schedule 1 species (we don’t even submit exact locations to the ringing scheme we provide a location + or – 10km of where the nest is and the actual location is submitted in a secure way to the licensing department.
    What you have to remember is that these species that are listed as schedule 1 are being given our highest available level of protection due to the pressures of past and current threats to their survival, indeed they are not managing to successfully re-populate many of their historic upland breeding sites due to interference.

    1. Mike, I fully understand that stance and accept that it is indeed only sensible to maintain it. I would imagine at a stoop of 100mph+ that a distance of + or – 10 Km would be negligible and perhaps something like 20 or 30 Km would be more realistic for removal of liberation sites.
      I of course bow to correction from both “sides” being ignorant of the facts of the matter as seen by both “sides”

  18. Gary—perhaps seems strange but lots of us who enjoy seeing raptors do not enjoy the actual taking of any bird even though we recognise it is part of their nature.

  19. Sorry guys I have been out working, firstly, my post was not intended to sound patronising, Ed you have a lot to learn about pigeons.
    I have been studying them for forty years, I have also had lots of experience with Raptors, Harris Hawks, Lanners and Owls etc.
    I don’t really want to have a peeing contest with you, nor do I want to blow my own trumpet.
    A winning pigeon does not fly alone and yes they do fly groups. A winning pigeon will fly in a batch and it may well be with a batch from birds from another area in the federation that will go further afield. Lots of birds come off the transporter, these are collected from a wide area.
    In our federation we have birds from Cumbria, all over Lancashire and Merseyside all flying together, so pigeon flying alone unless it’s very near to it’s loft will not be a winning pigeon. But the debate is once again veering off course.
    I spent 20 years on and off as hedge layer, I have been involved in pigeons for around 40 years, I have spent most of life outdoors observing and studying various species of wildlife.

    Dennis I can truly appreciate that not all like to see quarry taken.

    I am so desperately trying to find some common ground here as I don’t want to get into the pettiness of the last blog. As I feel that this is very counter productive. Yes there are those asking for culling licenses, frankly I’m not one of those, this is why I am desperately trying to find another solution.
    OK we let birds out into the open, agreed they will be attacked by predators along the way home.
    Put all that aside, I am concerned with attacks on pigeons on their lofts, already the figures have doubled this year. This is a fact, I have written reports, locations, time of day and in some cases some very disturbing photographs.
    This is without a shadow of a doubt the work of the Sparrowhawk.
    This is the problem.
    I don’t want to see any bird persecuted, but as some say, if no solution can be found then a license for culling will be pushed for.
    People keep harping back to old arguments and studies.
    I at the moment am working flat out gathering evidence, that is without a doubt conclusive.
    Another angle is DEFRA imposes certain conditions on us.
    So DEFRA is more than well aware that we are livestock breeders. We also have a legal duty of care to our livestock, would this not also cover their safety.
    At present, I can prove that over sixty lofts in different locations have had fatal attacks from sparrowhawks, at their loft location. over twenty of them have been this month and the tally is rising. These are not birds flying away from their lofts, these are on or around these lofts.
    One thing I have noticed, especially where our allotments are situated, we now have a pair of Buzzards that have taken up residence in a nearby mill. within a half of mile of our allotment, we have high up in a church steeple a pair of Peregrines, just up the canal we have a pair of sparrowhawks, I’m sure we have some other pairs of sparrowhawks, but I am having difficultly locating them at the moment.
    I did find evidence of their presence near a disused magpie nest, but the Magpie has now taken up residence there again.

    Mike I can honestly appreciate where you are coming from about revealing locations of certain species.
    I have myself seen first hand what lengths some people will do to get their hands on certain species of young Bops.
    I am going out on a limb here, to prevent what may be the inevitable.
    But at least one thing I can say, is that I tried.
    I come from a place Mike, which is rich in wildlife and due to my old trade of hedge layer I have worked in many parts of it, including the Forest Of Bowland.
    I am in somewhat of a predicament here, but when it comes down to it for obvious reasons, I will favour the pigeon fanciers side of things.
    But I just hope that I can educate non pigeon fanciers about the pigeon fancier.
    I know there are some out there who just couldn’t care less, these come across to me as very selfish people and go against nature itself.

  20. I meant to say, that since the Buzzards have taken up residence, the Sparrowhawk activity has eased off and the Buzzards have up to now not bothered the pigeons, although they do fly over circling, but so do seem to have an interest in the pigeons.

  21. I’m sorry but I’m with Ed on this one and it does seem that you’re ganging up on him.

    If you are going to race pigeons then you must just accept the fact that some of them are going to fall foul of birds of prey. My father used to be a farmer in East Africa and he had a number of dogs. Occasionally, they’d be killed by lions, but he would accept that as a fact of life, because the dogs were in the lion’s domain. He didn’t go out and shoot the lions responsible, because what would that achieve?

    If you can’t accept that this is the way of the world, then take up stamp collecting.

    1. i think some could and would accept that some of their pigeons will fall foul to birds of prey but figures alone this year has shown its not just a few…
      and where you stated dogs killed by lions because it was the lions domain
      then i presume your stating the the sky is the bird of preys domain only
      because the last i knew they both have wings to fly the skies 😉

  22. This I might also add, that no Buzzards have ever been in this location before and this is a built up residential area. Although they glide past at great height looking from side to side as they do, we just do not seem to have the same sparrowhawk attention. For us this is good news as we have lost a few to the sparrowhawk of late and also one to the peregrines.
    Maybe these may be a blessing in disguise, but I’m just going to monitor their activity for now. The male has been driving the female and they have now been displaying some airborne acrobatics.

  23. Hi Gary,
    interesting that the Buzzards nearby have reduced Sparrowhawk activity, I’m not sure it wil be long term but it is interesting nonetheless. It would need to be a very sick or stupid pigeon for a Buzzard to be interested in and have a chance of catching. I don’t know what the answer to the sparrowhawk problem is but if we can help I’m sure many of us will try. It might be helpful in your survey of attacks if you were also to look at all the characteristics and surroundings of lofts that have very few or no attacks. You never know they may offer a key to a solution.

  24. alan bread you are missing a point here …most pigeon men accept their will be losses whilst the birds are racing or training to predators of the sky but i think its unacceptable to exspect one to put up with their pets being attacked and killed on their own property, also are you aware that hawks will actualy enter a pigeon loft and kill……what would daddy do if a lion was in his house lol both barrells no doubt.

  25. Gary seems to me that one thing that would help is to have a local Buzzard daft as it sounds do not think Buzzards generally bother pigeons,much more into worms,rabbits and carrion.
    It would be a brave pigeon fancier who went and bought a captive bred Buzzard and tried the experiment out.
    Think it was rather brave of you to come on here as I expect you feel pilloried from both sides but hopefully you have at least got more information than you previously had,think if you stick to what is your hobby problem and do not get in with anti raptor groups you will get a sympathetic hearing from lots of people,answers much more difficult.

    1. Thanks Dennis, I’m no stranger to birds of prey, like I say, I have been around a bit. You right about getting it from from both sides especially from the extremists. I know they may think that they are saying the things that we are in some way too afraid to say.
      This can be no further from the truth.
      We get into into petty arguments, like birds of prey have been here longer than our pigeons. Let your pigeons out they will get eaten. Find another hobby to amuse yourselves. Then the cutting remarks start, petty insults etc.
      This just adds fuel to the extremists fire.
      The best one is your pigeons are entering the Bops domain.
      How stupid can these people be, they definitely are not chess players. Because the counter argument would be, these raptors are entering man’s domain.
      I know that this problem is a very volatile one and emotions run high on both sides.
      If these Raptor Group extremists really did care for raptors, then why on earth would they infuriate fanciers into taking the law into their own hands.
      To me it makes little sense as these sort of people will only cause raptors to be persecuted even more, but if they spent more time and energy trying to find a solution instead of trying to belittle fanciers, with their bad attitudes and stupid pathetic insults. Then maybe this would create at least a better understanding of the problems that do exist.
      People keep going on about the the good old days.
      There have never been any good old days.
      This problem has been going on since the late 80’s and has gradually become worse.
      The Scottish Homing Union, did make a great effort, but sadly it wasn’t supported in the way it should have been. Funds were limited, reports were flawed and it wasn’t continued.
      It would have been in everybody’s interest to have continued this study, not just in Scotland, but England, Wales and Ireland. It would have also been beneficial to everyone else who had an interest in finding a solution, including DEFRA and Natural England. Telemetry devices that last just under two weeks, what in reality would that tell you about the behavior of any bird. It seemed to me like the report was rushed and for that very reason, it failed.
      Now many arguments against pigeon racing always go back to this flawed report.
      I am am now using my own time and resources and financing my own study.
      Which is going to be in depth, sadly it’s not being taken as seriously as I would like it to be from both sides.
      Maybe it does at times seem like the ramblings of a madman, but at least I’m trying to make to make the effort

  26. My father was never stupid enough to allow any lions to get in the house. Anyway, dogs are perceived as more of a threat than humans.

    By referring to my father as ‘daddy’, I’m assuming that you’re having a pop at me as a toff. What if I was to assume because you’re called Darren that you’re a plebe?

    I’m not missing the point. Wild animals will try to kill your pigeons, whether they’re flying or caged. That’s a fact of life.

    Enjoying nature is something to be shared and enjoyed by many people. Pigeon racing is appearing to be an elitist and introspective pastime for loners.

  27. Thanks Paul,
    I know it’s early days yet, but we are getting reports from lofts who have never previously had any problems. But the frequency of these attacks are quite alarming one fancier in Guernsey has already this year lost 19, one fancier in Preston lost 5 in 6 days last week another in Liverpool lost three in two days. The list is becoming exhaustive.

    Any extremists or agitators, please do not be offended if I choose not to reply to your comments as I think they are totally irrelevant and it just really shows what you are.
    I can really see this debate once again becoming hindered by small minded people who to be quite frank do not really provide any serious input. I feel that many of us have now managed to become more civil towards each other and in my eyes this can only be a good thing, I know we are a long way from finding a solution to our problems, but entering into a civilised debate I would say is certainly a step in the right direction. As we are now able to to listen to each other and maybe we can all get something from it. For this I thank you.

    1. Excellent point Gary regarding the extremists. I think we should all ignore their comments. That way they can have their petty arguments amongst themselves, albeit on this blog, but the real people, those interested in the animals, will continue in their dialogue seeking some form of solution or at least attempting so to do.

  28. The only extremists or agitators in this thread, it would appear, are those in the small-minded pigeon camp. There is no reason on earth for culling birds of prey. They are on this planet to do what they do. The clue is in the word ‘prey’.

    Last time I looked this was a blog for conservationists. It appears to have been hijacked by the pro-pigeon lobby. Don’t they have their own forums to rant elsewhere?

    1. Richard – welcome and thank you for your comment. Yes this blog is about nature conservation but the occasional Guest Blog from either the same or a different point of view adds to the mix, I feel. I think it’s interesting that the pigeon-folk have been so keen to engage with nature cosnervationists and birders here. Some of the comments (from both ‘sides’) have been a bit over the top but many have been very thoughtful and I welcome them.

      It feels as though this opportunity to exchange views has been a rarity that the pigeon-folk have welcomed – and that seems a good thing for all of us in my opinion.

    2. richard, not all pigeon fanciers are small minded and gone are the days when it was deemed little old men in flat caps that kept pigeons 😉 and only a minority are after a cull, those who are, are more likely fanciers at the end of their tether and fed up of having there birds killed:-( remember back in the days when birds of prey were near extinction ” ” due to thieving egg collectors or being killed for one reason or another , the uproar and lobbying was done by conservationists, RSPB, etc. to stop this from happening, well I/we feel the same now, i know that pigeons are not and now where near extinction but we desperately are trying to come to a compromise to stop this happening to our beloved birds, mainly around their home, domain but also at race points. not only are our birds being ripped out the skies at home whilst exercising, I’ve sat and waited for birds to come from a race knowing they have been fully prepared and fit for it and should of been either the winner or close to it, only to be sat waiting, wondering? where that birds got to, and when (and it has happened on a lot of occasions) the bird comes home with half of her neck and shoulders eaten, puncture wounds to the chest your heart is ripped out knowing the effort that bird has put in to not only getting away from the grip of the talons but wounded and managed to fly home

  29. —STOP PRESS—

    Hawks enter pigeon loft and kill pigeons!

    Of course they do, but it’s your problem, not theirs.

    1. Michael – harshly put but I agree with the essence of your point. If sparrowhawks are getting into lofts then build better lofts. But that is only part of the issue I beleive. Welcome and thank you for your comment.

  30. Hi All,

    Interesting mix of comments.

    If I can firstly bring Mike up to date. I took your suggestion to SHU last Sunday, and the reception I got was decidedly frosty. Their current thinking is that after 13 years, a spend of c£70, 000, and co-operating fully with at least two pieces of research, we are no further forward, and this ‘avenue’ is a complete waste of time.

    Thank you for the link to the Sparrowhawk project. I can see from it that the type of data sought is almost exclusively quantitative. I wonder if concentrating on that type does lend itself to this type of research as qualitative may provide more meaningful data. For example what on earth does 0.004 attacks per day mean? And 571 days available for a project lasting less than 3 months – and in winter? I noted that the reviewers did not fully understand how to read data. With respect you fell for that one yourself by seizing upon the single sparrowhawk that moved in to replace one that was relocated – as ‘someone’ else suspected would happen – please remember that if 1 out of 7 sparrowhawks was replaced, that also means that 6 out of 7 were not. Which statistic is the most revealing for the purposes of the research and why is only the one that accords with ‘established theory’ mentioned?

    It is interesting too that the latest deterrent – mylar tape – was said to be ineffective. Papers and bird scaring companies tell us that very few deterrents work for long. Combinations of sound, sight & movement work best, otherwise birds soon become familiarised. So eagle owl figure on top of the loft is unlikely to succeed if it is static, and soundless. Revolving head, glowing eyes and sound CD are recommended.

    My garden is a desert. I allow nothing over a few inches high to grow in it. My allies are crows which mob & drive both buzzards & sparrowhawks away. I have an old-fashioned clothes pole with 4 tie-points at the top, which point north, south, east & west, and positioned approx 6 foot in front of the loft’s single entrance. I have pegged a CD to the East and South facing tie-points, which allows them to move with the wind and reflect light over the garden.

    All this seems to work for me, but there are other fanciers not 400 yards from me who are pestered by sparrowhawks, one has pigeons killed every year. It is these fanciers for whom relocation is a possible solution. The project clearly shows the sparrowhawks welfare was always paramount, and no harm came to those trapped. We need to modify sparrowhawk behaviour when a single bird targets a loft of pigeons. Nobody is suggesting culling or harming the bird to achieve that.

  31. “My garden is a desert.”

    Yes, why not punish the other wildlife as well. Pathetic.

    1. I took heed of the advice not to afford a sparrowhawk any cover in my garden from which it could launch a surprise attack on the inhabitants. In addition to my pigeons there are a resident pair of blackies and robins in the back garden. They help me keep my garden predator-free by warning me of everything that they regard as a danger, e.g cats & magpies. If it’s a danger to them, it’s same for the pigeons. I also supply what is left of the local sparrow population with pigeon down feathers to line their nests – from what I can see they are a very coveted item. I’ve various other small birds come in hunting flies, especially swifts – how they do that without colliding with anything amazes nme.

      So what weeds don’t you pull, and what weedkillers don’t you use on your paths and in your garden?

  32. Hi Ian,

    It wasn’t so much that I fell for it (but it did show that that particular individual had a mind to return to that area (amongst other theories it could of simply been unable to establish another territory or it could have just been returning to its natal grounds).

    I was more concerned with the territories that proved to have been quickly taken over (just because the other sites didn’t have another bird caught doesn’t prove that they weren’t repopulated, the study doesn’t appear to have tried to establish this) given the number of birds breeding I think the case would be that any vacant territory would be quickly reinhabited.
    Is it safe to assume that 9 days is long enough to establish whether or not the Sparrowhawk will return (and if it didn’t where did it go?)

    The study was clearly limited in many respects, including perhaps the level of involvement from the lofts owners, with hindsight though it does look as though there were many aspects that it might of been useful to record/study at the same time.

    What I have a bit of a problem with is understanding what the next step realistically could/should be, we know that there are ongoing studies of populations of all birds so I find it difficult to accept that in the last few years, a sudden increase in numbers happened and that somehow this went unnoticed, so the population of birds could be targetting the lofts more often? has something changed in these or surrounding areas (deforestation for example, or has a large area of habitat been lost due to urbanisation or industrialisation) it’s so difficult to ascertain what effect any of these things might have had on the predator/prey relationship.

    Are there useable datasets available on the number of strikes at individual lofts that could be used to compare the present loss rate to the loss rate in previous years?

    I am not sure where the SHU stance leaves its members as clearly there has been a lot of money spent, and the answers were seen largely as a waste of time and money so no further studies will be undertaken.

    I sort of agree, I mean what meaningful study could be undertaken?
    What can we learn that might help? my feeling is that the money would be better invested in deterent development but it is becoming quite obvious that individually these things at best have time limited success and that people have pretty much exhausted most current ideas?, it might be interesting to see a detailed trial though so you can see what effect if any they had and how long they were effective for and if a combination of multiple things could work over time (again the trouble is, that what works in one area might not work in another)

    The belief that people here might hold the answer is perhaps a little misplaced, as those of us here with an interest, tend to study the birds behaviour not try to alter it (maybe it would be worth speaking with people who have tried to alter the behaviour of other species, with supplementary feeding for example)

  33. To me the simple solution is to maintain the status quo and allow for a percentage of sparrowhawk kills to be adjusted for in the breeding regime of the pigeon fanciers. Reading between the lines it does not seem that sparrowhawk kills are depleting the numbers of flocks of racing pigeons. If every pigeon fancier has the same problems with predation of their flocks then no one will be at any advantage because of predators. Eventually through the process of natural selection the racing pigeons that survive any raptor predation will pass their genes on to the next generation and will lead to an improved stock of racing pigeons.
    I have noticed that in my garden collared doves are a preferred prey by sparrowhawk and if their breeding were encouraged near pigeon lofts then this might act as a form of supplementary feeding to deter the sparrowhawks from predating racing pigeons. Or this may be a pretty stupid suggestion to even have a “tame” breeding population of collared doves or slow pigeons which could be released at the same time as the racers are being exercised to divert the attention of the sparrowhawks.
    If sparrowhawks are a schedule 1 species then it may even be possible to obtain a government grant from DEFRA to provide a food source for these birds. This wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest !!

  34. I think some more education is required.
    There are many systems of keeping racing pigeons, one of which is natural. This system is as it states, natural. the birds pair and raise young, the only interference being that they have pot eggs placed under them to limit the number of young they produce and this helps the fancier to bring them into race condition since raising a family is a drag on their resources which would prevent them attaining the fitness levels required to race properly. On this system the birds have open loft, so better lofts are not required.
    If you wish to attack this natural state you may, but I thought you were the defenders of nature and the natural state.
    To play Devil’s advocate, I am not being serious about this suggestion, but why not manage the bird of prey population in a similar manner. Leave them 2 eggs, slip pot eggs under after that, but keep them natural. A stupid suggestion of course, but perhaps an example of the way that nature and natural methods do not always comply with our wishes.
    Not wishing to retrace old ground I think we are looking at methods to assist, not options to deride.
    Perhaps a further piece of information for Gary to collect would be whether the birds were nder controlled exercise or flying open hole. Some have stated that their birds are on open hole all year round and are street wise. Collating this piece of information could furnish us with yet more weapons to our arsenal.
    Many thanks DavidH for your constructive input.

  35. We have anti-cat traps which tip over if a cat tries to enter a loft. What weight range are sparrowhawks? Perhaps these traps could be altered to tip if a sparrowhawk attempted to enter the loft.

  36. Hi all, have enjoyed reading most of the posts on the blog and it’s very encouraging to finally find somewhere where both interests can be spoke about openly without it turning into a row. i am a pigeon fancier myself, but also an avid lover of nature, always have been. but speaking as a pigeon fancier, the time of year i dread most is letting my young ones out for the first few times. i’ve had them out beforein previous years for the first time, flying down into the garden where i was able to sit and observe and enjoy only to have them hit by a sparrowhawk and then all hell breaks lose and inexperienced youngsters take to the sky for the first time in terror. quite a few youngsters i’ve lost this way, never to be seen again. so i suppose i’d like to ask those in the know if there’s a particular month/time in the year that you could advise i breed my youngsters so the threat of attack may not be as severe for these inexperienced babies. i would love to find a solution to this problem without having to turn my garden into a theme park with flashing lights, spinning discs and a variety of recorded calls and hoots so that my young pigeons might have a better chance to get settled and have their first few test flights round the garden as uninterupted as possible. i’ll know soon enough if this is a good time as they are in the avairy this past week looking as though they’d like to get out into the open. with regards to when the birds are older i also believe as someone said in an earlier post that our own unions, feds etc. can do more to restructure our racing calender and perhaps alternate it every few years to support the hobby but also help to create a climate that will ensure a more natural environment for birds of prey also, i.e. tough times as well as times of plenty where the weak in the species would suffer and only the strong survive.

    1. Good points Gerry.
      Cock pigeons usually drive the female to nest to get weight off her. BOP seem to put weight on because the hen does all the sitting. When do they lay eggs? Does the cock feed her whilst she is sitting? Does he take a turn? How long do the eggs incubate? When do the young take to the sky? Do they get taught how to hunt right away or at what age does this occur? If we know these facts it could assist in removing un-natural food sources.

  37. Just a few points that might be of interest on why Sparrowhawks target lofts, firstly I don’t have much spare time for the internet which is why I haven’t got into this debate before now. I have studied Sparrowhawks for quite some time, I’ve flown them as a Falconry bird and also helped rehab injured ones. It is my belief Spars take pigeons to increase their body weight to enable them to breed, A female Sparrowhawks weight will go up at the onset of the breeding season by over 50%, from an average of around 8 ounces to over 12 ounces. This is achieved at a time when prey is scarce and at a time of year when mortality rates for wild Spars are nearly at there highest. A look in Newton’s book on Sparrowhawks will confirm these statements. Interestingly this weight is not lost on laying its clutch of eggs
    Sparrowhawks are renowned in Falconry as one of the most difficult species to work with, weight management is a crucial aspect of falconry, check any good falconry book on Sparrowhawks (Mavrogodato, O’Broin) and they warn against feeding Pigeon as it will throw a Sparrowhawk out of condition for several days, having fed a rehab bird (Spar) on wood pigeon during the moult I can confirm that it literally throws weight onto the hawk, the birds weight shot up within days and it became completely unmanageable, another interesting note is that it held this weight for some time on just small rations.
    From personal observations, February and March have nearly always been the months when female Spars have turned their attentions to Wood pigeons, I used to have a Spaniel that was very good at finding and retrieving part eaten Wood Pigeons and it was easy to take them off him, find out where it had been killed, replace it, retire some distance and await the predators return. In his book Newton placed additional food in some nest areas to check if it helped the breeding success of Sparrowhawks on poor territories, Sparrowhawks readily took the additional food. Apologies if this has already been trialled but placing dead Wood Pigeons on suspected flight paths towards the lofts might be an avenue of thought, they can usually be acquired cheaply from Shooting lads or markets. Best of luck anyway, regards Paul

    1. Paul – welcome and thank you for a detailed comment. Any pigeon racer with a sparrowhawk problem should read Ian Newton’s book on the sparrowhawk to gain an understanding of their ‘enemy’. His book on population ecology of raptors would be a good one too.

    2. Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your comments. Mavrogodato’s book is available in my local Library and I’ve reserved it. Newton’s book, as Mark recommended, strangely isn’t, nor are any of his other titles, which surprised me given he is so well published.

      Sparrowhawk behaviour is my main interest. Mike is not the only one who coined the phrase ‘Know your enemy’ and I think information on its behaviour is key to stopping these attacks at target lofts. It is interesting that you say wood pigeon is a (the?) favourite food, Scotland is teeming with these, so my feeling is that something is wrong when racing pigeon lofts are targetted instead of fields of natural prey, which a layperson like me would expect to be the main food source.

      Feral pigeons come into much the same category in my mind, but they do not appear to even come onto the sparrowhawk radar, and again ‘gut feeling’ suggests quality of meat, taste & safety of eating it. Very few lofts in Scotland are targeted by sparrowhawks which suggests to me that a) the majority of sparrowhawks live upon wild-grown meat and have never tasted a racing pigeon; and b) a tiny minority have developed a preference for home-grown meat and have changed their behaviour to live on that. Your comment on the meal a pigeon presents in calorific terms for a sparrowhawk sparked my own unproven thoughts on this matter. A racing pigeon is raised on top of the range grain and kept in the best of health. Taste, Quality & Safety boxes are all ticked and would put it top of the list for me. I suspect we are witnessing the same type of thing with the peregrine, though on a much larger scale.

      Behaviour is the main reason that I cannot agree with your suggestion to provide dead meat in the form of wood pigeon carcases. Fanciers I think do their utmost to prevent their loft & garden becoming feeding stations by preventing any feeding pattern being set-up. Evidence of that is in the SHU/SNH Sparrowhawk REPORT where the fancier experienced an attack and locked his birds up for one or two days. That is because they are known to return next day, same time for another try. The thinking is if they return over a number of days and find nothing, then that location drops off their radar. Whether this theory can be proven as fact in either of the two books would be helpful in deciding in whether the practice actually worked.

      There is also other carrion behaviour to consider, in that dead meat would be a magnet for these too, and equally attractive for crows, buzzards, gulls, cats, foxes, stoat – and vermin like rats. We would have Environmental Health on our backs & and our neighbours.

      The problem may be seen small from a statistical viewpoint in regards to the numbers of pigeons killed as a percentage of the total number of pigeons. That stat is falacious as not all lofts are affected. For example the REPORT cited around 90? lofts, when there are over 1000 lofts in Scotland, the other 910 are not affected so the pigeons housed there shouldn’t be counted, nor should the fanciers they have little trouble from this source. But for the very few lofts that do suffers attacks from a single sparrowhawk, it is a major problem and a nightmare for the fancier – and his neighbours as chasing, eating & killing takes place on their properties too.

      Deterrents do not work, or work for long. In my opinion, the best solution is to modify the sparrowhawk’s behaviour to have it revert back to feeding on wild-grown stock. That is the natural state of things. We have trialled relocation which the SHU felt would be helpful to those few fanciers affected by this problem.

  38. just caught up with this blog , and I am relieved that all the (well nearly all) of the braindead have decided not to continue with their rants -on both sides .
    Some genuine ideas and a certain amount of empathy is being shown across the board.
    Remember if we can resolve problems then extremism will not rear its ugly head.

  39. Gary,

    It’s your forum and you can write what you like but have you ever asked the BTO how these surveys are undertaken, in particular the ones done by raptor study groups?

    Or have you ever looked into what the nest recording scheme is and how that is undertaken? yes they are done by volunteers but how does that alter the results?

    Who would could afford to fund such an expansive study for so many years?

    Using 2010 figures and a survey cost of £20 per hour (for professional surveying) the cost of the work done by Northern England Raptor Forum members would be somewhere in the region of £900,000 a year, this work is done almost entirely on a voluntary basis.

    Your belief that everything and everyone is incompetent is beginning to wear a little thin, papers that are produced by scholars are just that, studies done by the scholar (working with those people named on the paper) and written up then peer reviewed before being published, his biggest critics (were it to be published incorrectly) would most likely be those who are interested in and study raptors themselves

    I understand that you find it frustrating that there IS science to back what we discuss but just push it aside and say that its all rubbish is hardly conducive to reasoned discussion, if you want to survey your local Sparrowhawk population there is nothing to stop you (provided your don’t recklessly disturb breeding wild birds) then do so and submit your records to the nest record scheme as well if you like.

    It is clear that nothing we say is believed so is there any point saying anything more?

  40. I just feel that I am banging my head against a brick wall.
    Maybe I should be putting my energy into something more constructive, like getting every fancier to fight their own corner.
    I don’t to profess to have all the answers, I’m just a normal member of the public who loves his birds.
    To be honest I’m sick of getting flack from both sides.
    Hopefully it may have given a few fanciers a little hope.
    Lets hope for the sake of our sport and our pigeons that some competent organisation may be formed to take on this fight.
    In the meantime, I’m just going to concentrate on my own things without the stress of this crap.

  41. Don’t understand this post Mike. I thought Gary was taking part in this debate in an even manner. Perhaps I am too obtuse, but sometimes I do need handfed, so to speak.

  42. Andrew,

    Perhaps you didn’t follow the link to the discussion on his forum.

    It’s important that people question science or studies it’s how things progress, I don’t like it when it gets completely dismissed purely because it doesn’t agree with what you wish to believe, by all means bring something to the table to show why the figures are incorrect or how something might have been missed but don’t come out with crap like this

    David wrote:

    all these surveys these people do are worthless gary, how does some bloke with a clipboard have any idea how many pigeons are being killed by either a sparrow hawk or a perigrine….? total nonsence, which may placate the do gooders but the pigeon fanciers know differently.

    all they do is quote surveys, total crap…………

    Gaz b wrote:

    I agree mate.
    But what seems to be the norm, they go into a few areas do a survey and then guestimate the rest of the country, which in itself is total bollocks.
    We should do a survey on the worst hit lofts and then fabricate this as a true picture of the rest of the country and get some scholar to put his name to it. 15 grand later, hey presto.
    But yet again in our case, it wouldn’t be far off the truth


    Anyone can do a survey, but to give the said survey any weight it has to enforced by a scholar who is known for their expertise in this area. Like a University Professor or someone well known in this field, the study then has to be presided over by this said authoritative figure.
    Only then could it be considered to be used by peers in Parliament.
    Here lies a big problem, because most of these scholars are sympathetic to the RSPB.

    This is just back to square one of the discussion on the first blog. That bloke with a clipboard is a bloke like me, with no clipboard but a set of climbing irons and a rope

    To complete that survey that bloke does 5 visits to each nest site

    1) look for displaying birds/plucking posts
    2) find an occupied nest (they build a new one each year)
    3) climb up and count the number of eggs laid
    4) climb up and count/ring the young
    5) go back and confirm how many birds fledged

    I then input this data into the database software that is supplied by the BTO and it is collated nationally and independently by them, I can also review this area from the reports I can generate within the software.

    If there was suddenly a big increase or decrease for example in the number of young surviving to fledge or the density of the population suddenly changed we would see it, it wouldn’t go unnoticed.

    1. I didn’t go to the link. I think I would find out more here. I think Gary is trying a balancing act. If he shows up too moderate he will be viewed with suspicion and he will not receive the information he seeks. When he shows up extremist, he is viewed with suspicion on this blog. To a certain extent a lose lose situation whilst I believe he is trying to turn it into a win win situation. Maybe rose tinted specs.
      I can accept some of what he says regards the professional appending his name, he won’t be climbing trees or not very often. Also, I would guess most of your work is in the “wild”, not around lofts, but that was one of your earlier suggestions and one which, in my opinion, should be seriously looked at. Ian quotes figures, from whence they came I do not know, but if it is only 90 lofts and that small number astounds me, then how would we go about the BTO doing their surveys in these areas.
      This is the areas under discussion on this blog and it may produce figures far in excess of the norm, which could show something un-natural is occurring.
      The previous is, of course, only a thought, but I feel this is the information required to assess any situation regarding how nature and mankind are surviving together, or not. If this work was carried out we would have scientific facts regarding sparrowhawks and their behaviour around some lofts. This would only be a start, but it could prove or dis-prove the claims of the fanciers.
      Having the findings accepted is another matter all together and this may be why Gary suggested fanciers working with the BTO volunteers.

      1. Hi Andrew,

        We study all the raptors we can find, urban, sub-urban or rural, the thing I don’t know is how many pigeon fanciers there are locally, I am sure that there are some in this area (there is even a website for a club) .

        I guess that some questions would need to be answered before we could compare it to your area

        How are the birds kept, how many birds are kept, how many lofts are there, how close together are they etc.

        How you would get BTO/raptor groups/bird watchers involved in a study?

        I am afraid you would have to speak to the people in the area who are doing such studies and ask them if it was possible to be party to any information that is collated. There are likely to be trust issues (maybe on both sides) and these will be further highlighted by the “songbird propaganda” that is clearly the ‘norm’ in the pigeon world RPRA website (with downloadable WHERE HAVE ALL THE SONGBIRDS GONE? hawk stickers) and SaveOurRacingPigeons site for example, my guess (and that is all it is) is that it would be hard to get someone to help with these types of study when the studies and science that exists are being completely dismissed, as you have seen here it really doesn’t help the ‘case’ when asking for help.

  43. looks like there are no answers forthcoming just a constant wall of reasons why nothiong can be done .
    In an earlier post ,I said that as I live in a built up area , I do not have the problems that some have.
    I lose birds around the loft now and again but not enough to make a real difference to me .
    I dont know how many I lose to BOP racing or training as most BOP attacks are fatal.
    I am all for a happy medium -keeping everyone happy- but if nothing is done it is inevitable that some people will take the law in their own hands ,which may I add that I do not endorse,but fully understand .
    I think that blogs like this do no good to either group ,and because of the nature of the web/blogging it can pay lip service to those with ridiculous ideas and no intention of compromise.
    I sympathise with those who seek a resolution to a problem that some in the BOP corner/RSPB ,deny exists.
    I would ask for a post from Mark that outlines the RSPB stance or indeed his own .
    Do they percieve that a problem exists?
    If the answer is No then I am afraid that further dialogue is pointless and both sides lose in the long run
    I await replies with interest

    1. Phil – I can’t talk for the RSPB, and it’s up to them whether they wish to respond here, but the blog n which you have just commented did demonstrate that i think that there is a legitimate problem. I’ve lready done what you asked, haven’t I? And I will certainly come back to this issue some time.

  44. thanks for your reply Mark.
    I really hope that a resolution will be found, Excuse me for assuming that your response would be of a negative nature.The problem is that there is so much animosity between most of the people concerned that the real issue is lost in the verbal fracas.

  45. Good points Phil, but some are using dialogue and I think information is starting to flow. Trust takes time to build, so I wouldn’t expect things to move at great speed, but once we have it trundling along, the speed of communication should begin to race, then we will have take off.

  46. mr bread whether my social standing is a pleb or toff has no bearing on the matter in hand and we all have a daddy and i am sorry if the word offended you but as for nature being shared by all this is true but never the less their is an element of extremism within the raptor loving camp and this has rearranged the balance of nature due to releasing to many in urban areas and as for mentioning stamp collecting i would think you could fit all that you know on the back of one ,coming out with comments like that are of no help at all and will only see more raptors persecuted which i do not condone in anyway but when faced with so many obstinate individuals within the rspb this sadly is the only way i can see things going…..on a final note i would like to mention mike price who seems to be the only one having any reasonable dialogue and is open to debate on the matter,mike i would like to say thankyou and lets hope their are a few more out their like you as then we might be able to resolve this situation in a way that could benefit both sets of birds.

    1. Darren – which are these raptors released in urban areas please? And the RSPB hasn’t said anything on this blog so where do you get your views about the RSPB please – I’d just be interested to look up what the RSPB has said, if they have said anything. Thanks

    2. Darren,

      One point – many of the people who have posted on Mark’s blog in response to Gary and other’s points of view are simply people who love the natural world and perhaps see that pigeon racing as not fitting into what is natural. You seem to have a dim view of the RSPB but the views expressed on this blog are not necessarily from the RSPB. There are numerous charitable groups and organisations that protect wildlife and environments and I am sure none have an agenda to make life difficult to pigeon fanciers. I think there is further research that can be done to help mitigate losses at lofts from Sparrowhawks but what you must do is accept certain facts and one thing is for sure, RSPB do not release or rehabilitate Sparrowhawks.

  47. Hi guys I have uncovered some very extremely weird and wonderful facts over the last few days and I would love to know what comes under the heading of fact or fiction.
    in 1999 The UK Raptor Working Group after completing studies reported that there was in fact 34700 Breeding pairs of Sparrowhawk in Mainland Britain.
    According to the BTO in 2000 there was in fact 40100 Breeding pairs in Britain.
    So in one year if all successful breeding pairs had only a clutch of one then 27700 had failed attempts. This is staggering and quite well beyond belief.
    Then in 2004 according to Ian Newton there was 32000 breeding breeding pairs in Britain .
    Then in 2010 The RSPB reported that there was in fact 40100 breeding pairs in Britain.
    I put it to you gentlemen, that all of these figures are a complete fabrications and the true figure, I would not be surprised to say that maybe the true figures of breeding pairs in Britain, would be considerably higher, not including the amount of singles there may be floating around.
    This is why we are suffering so much at the hands of these raptors.
    One Sparrowhawk would consume approximately for arguments sake say 100 pigeons per year.

  48. Hunting animals are, to my knowledge, controlled by two factors.
    Food supply and superior predators. There may be others of which I am not yet enlightened and have not yet thought about.
    When the food supply wains the predators seek new territories with more plentiful bounty. They may have territorial fights, but my understanding of the animal kingdom is that these mostly result in posture and the rare skirmish; live to fight another day. Those who are unable to inhabit a new territory would die. Territories with plentiful food could support more inhabitants and the occupier’s territory would decrease accordingly, thus a greater concentration of that hunter. This is my understanding of the situation regarding sparrowhawks.
    The other controlling factor would be predators. What animals are the predators of sparrowhawks?

  49. But not where there are pigeon lofts full of food, which will substitute the ever decreasing amount of other wild natural prey.
    But it appears we have been hoodwinked statistically I would just like to know where it will all end.
    It is becoming clear that their are many elements to this equation, but their integrity is seriously coming into question.
    We are being hand fed constant lies, just like the general public.
    Yes we are going back to square one again.
    When you actually sit down and start to do the figures it is hard to tell who is actually telling the truth.
    The sparrowhawk is not failing, nor is it anywhere near in decline.

  50. Hi Guys,

    I don’t have time for a detailed response but I thought I should give you some thoughts so that you don’t feel you have been ignored.

    Andrew, you are partly right the size of a population is determined by four key factors

    1) The number of young birds to fledge (which can alter quickly depending on many factors, food, conditions etc)
    2) The number of young that survive to breed
    3) The number of adults that survive to breed again
    4) The number of birds that come from outside populations

    Gary and Andrew

    To use the latest figures available (2010)

    96 sites checked of these 54 were occupied by pairs 33 were occupied by single birds.
    34 of the (54) pairs were fully monitored through the season
    5 failed before the egg stage
    29 pairs laid eggs
    23 pairs hatched eggs
    47 young were confirmed fledged
    A productivity of 1.62 young per pair laying eggs

    Studies have shown that only 1/3 of these birds will survive to breed and of course you have to make some allowance for adult birds that die.

    Hence why I would suggest in this area that population is stable and may be declining slightly (based on the fact that the productivity is slightly less than it has been in previous years and less sites were occupied).

    There are a wealth of papers on the subject at (scroll down from the picture) but I am afraid I am not qualified to answer any question on these you would have to contact Dr Ian Newton directly about them (please post them with any responses though).

    I haven’t had a chance but this inparticular might be worth reading



  51. I think we have two conflicting situations.
    We have the natural state which appears to be monitored well and shows, at this stage, a slight decline in sparrowhawk numbers.
    We have the un-natural state around the vicinity of pigeon lofts, which appears not to be monitored and is being treated as a natural state.
    In these areas the sparrowhawk population appears to be increasing and becoming a nuisance to fanciers. This could be accepted as fact if some monitoring was conducted, but until that time, we could assume it is fact since the sparrowhawk territories will be small allowing the large population because of the large un-natural food source.
    Any meaningful assistance would be the offer of monitoring these particular areas to give credence, or not, to the assumptions and the areas requiring monitoring could be specified through the results obtained from Gary’s reports or the Hawkwatch reports being sent to the RPRA. Gary’s reports may be more accurate since not all fanciers are affiliated to the RPRA and not all will report to them, whereas Gary is attempting a balancing act and the fanciers may be more conducive to reporting to him the outcomes of attack.

  52. Andrew,

    Allowing for that fact that there is a large degree of assumption in that statement.

    The natural state includes areas where there are high populations of wild pigeons (and other birds) for example I can regularly count 50-100 Wood Pigeons sat in the trees of a wood I know to contain 2 pairs of Sparrowhawks and they hold their own territories without additional pairs being able to intrude.

    I accept that the possibility exists that birds from other sites are hunting farther to visit areas where they are finding “easy kills” but without having a vast amount of money to satellite tag all the local birds you might have trouble proving it (wing tags for example wouldn’t be suitable for this species, perhaps colour rings would be suitable).

    I think that it is fair to say that you will never satisfy the belief that this is the case without going out and doing some survey work of your own in your area.

    1. How do we learn how to do the survey work? I presume there would need to be guidlines of some sort or else you would be disturbing their nesting habits etc. Do you need trained and licenced and if so where are the centres for this? I presume there is some sort of national governing body with local centres to contol these activities.

    2. Mike, not all pigeons are the same.
      Wood pigeons do field, but when they are in the woods, the trees afford them some protection from the attacks. Similarly feral pigeons also have the buildings that they live on and in for this protection.
      Racing pigeons are different in that they will fly hard during exercise for between 30 mins and 90 mins. During this time they are in the open sky without any objects to impede attacks. It is safer to attack them if you have no fear of collision with a solid object and no obstacles to prevent your attack. Once the racers stop exercising they enjoy free time in the garden or the bath. It is at this time when they are relaxing when they are most succeptable to sparrowhawk attack, although my own have been chased whilst in open flight.
      High density of wood pigeon, ring necked dove or feral pigeon is not the same as high density of racing pigeon.

  53. Andrew,

    It’s not a case of having two conflicting situations between “natural” and “unnatural” populations. Its more of a case of a set of data being used for a purpose it was not intended.

    The surveys that generate most of the data on bird numbers are designed to estimate population size not density. The question you and Gary et al are actually trying to answer is “are sparrowhawk densities higher in areas with lofts?” This could be a relatively (note the use of that word) easy question to answer.

    It’s also important to remember that most of the surveys that generate these population estimates include ALL habitats; for example my Breeding Bird Survey Square is slap bang in the middle of Cardiff (its a randomly chosen by the BTO) and is terrace house after terrace house. Occasionally I glimpse the Taff!

    It’s also very important to remember how difficult it is to determine the Exact size of Any population, wild or domestic. For example I bet you couldn’t tell me EXACTLY how many racing pigeons there were in the UK right… Now (17:19!). That’s because any population is dynamic with gains and losses all the time, mobility of individuals and individuals that go undetected. You could however provide me with an estimated figure but that would only be as accurate as the last time it was updated and the method used to collect the data. For example would a squab “count” in the official figures for the racing pigeon population when it hatches or only when it is fitted with a registered ring? Do all racing associations count their members’ pigeon populations in the same way? I should stress that I am not after answers to these question but have provided them as illustration.

    The problems are the same, if not worse, with wild populations as the terrain, weather conditions, the season, the detectability of individuals etc all add inherent error. So surveys have to be designed to overcome these and you have to accept some error. For example, for the last six years I have studied a population of swallows breeding at a riding school in the centre of Cardiff. When I first started there were only 14 pairs and last year the population was estimated at 19 pairs; but each year I have to accept that I cannot get an accurate count on the number of pairs breeding in the largest of the buildings, possibly a further 1-3 pairs each year. From my survey though I can safely say that the population is at the very least stable (haha!) but most likely increasing.

    Method will also determine the accuracy of a survey. Keeping with the swallows, when I first started I only counted nests. Now I can catch and ring adults so the number of “mystery” pairs (“errors”) is less. But I still report figures from my nest counts the population at the site as that is a comparable estimate to when I started. Comparing population estimates that are possibly derived from different survey methods is not a good idea as each method will have a different set of biases and errors (Gary take note!).

    Also you asked about learning to do surveys. I would heartily recommend that you and others concerned about the population estimates etc get hold of a copy of “Bird Census Techniques” by Bibby et al to see exactly how complicated it is and how many variables have to be considered. Licensing will depend on the species, so for sparrowhawks, yes, you’ll need a licence from the relevant statutory nature conservation organisation (e.g Natural England or CCW)

    1. Rich, thanks for your reply. It shows just how complicated the matter can be and also it is very candid, in that it accepts the estimates are just that. It also clarifies that no consideration is given to areas which may have different densities of a species.
      Now, what if the surveys were conducted in areas of high density. If this was the case then the population numbers that are accepted are actually too high, because the areas outwith the survey have a less dense population. Similarly, the reverse could also be true and the population numbers that are accepted are actually too low.
      Now, I have not read the book to which you referred and am only making assumptions based on my understanding of how the figures are derived. I am not alone, within the racing pigeon world, in making these assumptions. Here we have the nub of the problem. There will always be a lack of trust in the figures when fanciers birds are being targetted. They may be targetted by a rogue predator or they may be targetted because there are an excess of predators.
      We will never have facts for the preceeding paragraph, unless surveys are done around the problem loft areas as well as the other areas. In this way perhaps a truer figure may be arrived at. I do not mean to be objectionable in this statement, but view it as a correct statement given the feelings and understanding or lack of understanding amongst fanciers. I also think that for the facts of the said survey to be accepted, fanciers would have to be involved.

      1. Andrew, thank you for your reply too but I should stress that the surveys will be have been Conducted in areas of varying density but they are not Designed to measure density. Those are two very different things but the distinction is important. For example BTO’s breeding bird survey is based randomly chosen 1km squares. Given the sheer number of squares surveyed (1000+ I think) then you can see that areas of high and low density will be covered.

        I can understand why that people, in this case fanciers, see population estimates as Gospel as they come from organisations that are viewed as authorities but they are just estimates and no one on the “conservation side” would refute that. I can also understand that fanciers won’t or don’t trust the figures and there is nothing stopping them getting involved in a myriad surveys.

        People on both sides of the debate make assumptions but I must admit that I think that a lot of fanciers would do their side a lot of favours if they took a step back and delved more into the subject rather than shooting from the hip; assuming things about a subject that they no little about will only lead to more misunderstanding which won’t get anyone anywhere. There have been many on here that have banded around figures without actually understanding how those figure were derived and therefore don’t understand their context, relevance, or how to use those figures properly. The frustrating thing is that information is out there (the book i recommended for example) and it’s accessible to all so there is nothing stopping anyone finding things out for themsleves! It’s therefore encouraging to see people such as yourself trying to find things out. If you are interested in learning more then do invest in that book!

        One last thing; as much as I admire and support the RSPB, fanciers would do well to remember and understand that the RSPB is not the final word in everything to do with birds. Take a look at the BTO’s website; for starters here and follow some of the links (especially under population and distribution) as they will show you how the various figures are derived and how the surveys are conducted.

    1. Mike, please read my reply to Rich and re-consider. I feel sure that you have a lot to give to this debate and if we are to make progress, then it can only be made through dialogue. Posturing only causes the feelings that you have just now.
      I accept that pigeon fanciers in general are ignorant of your work. I certainly am. I also feel that people that do your work are in general ignorant of the work pigeon fanciers do in preparing their birds and the differences between different types of domestic pigeons because it is not just racing enthusiasts that are experiencing problems. these problems are more widespread than that.

    1. I tried the link after Mike’s post on 13th. I got a different response which suggested to me the ‘host’ server had withdrawn that Site’s privileges.

  54. Hi ,
    I used to work in a National Nature Reserve many years ago and have always loved the natural environment but unfortunately my daughter is having a Sparrow hawk problem around her White dove loft. We live in a village in Perthshire and since the hawk has found us he returns daily taking doves if they are out . We have managed to rescue 7 from his talons but he is so tame and bold he comes and lands in the garden when we are there. We only let the birds out if we are in the garden. We are now building an outdoor aviary to allow the birds out safely but they should be able to fly freely for their wellbeing. Recently the hawk swooped at my head which is now causing me most concern. I naturally screamed and managed to duck but my daughter may not be so lucky . Any suggestions please?

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