For all that’s sacred…

I had a brief and pleasant walk at Stanwick Lakes one lunchtime this week.  The sun shone and there were lots of birds around.

A common sandpiper meant that it was either autumn or spring.  An adult yellow-legged gull made it more likely that it was late summer as that is when I see most of them here.  On two separate occasions a hobby scared all the birds and then headed up the valley to the south west.  The sand martins, swallows and house martins were also heading in a southwesterly direction.  There was nothing much in the way of song.  It’s autumn.

By Steve Garvie from Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Everything made sense, except for one bird, a rather beautiful bird, but a bird out of place.  I’ve seen sacred ibises in Africa, and on the cover of The Ibis (the journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union), but I don’t expect to see them here in east Northants.  But there was one walking past the lapwings and black-headed gulls and mallards and gadwalls.  They are all expected species but it is not.

This sighting wasn’t completely unexpected as the bird has been around for a while, it’s just that I hadn’t seen it.

A pretty bird, and well worth looking at, but not entirely welcome.  This bird is thought to be a bird from Cheshire but sacred ibises are numerous on the other side of the Channel and seem to be expanding their range from escapes or artificial releases.  There are fears they may hoover (or vacuum, or Dyson) up some ground nesting birds.  Will Stanwick Lakes’s common terns suffer next year – they suffered from being flooded out this year!

Nice bird in the wrong place?

I haven’t seen a ruddy duck for years now.



23 Replies to “For all that’s sacred…”

  1. I gather three Sacred Ibis escaped from Chester Zoo last year, they seem to get about a bit don’t they ? I’m pleased to hear that this one has departed Cheshire, as you say beautiful birds but not entirely welcome.

    I had the pleasure of listening to listening to a Robin’s autumn lament outside my bedroom window this morning. For me this always heralds the start of autumn, which happens to be my favourite season along with spring, summer and winter.

  2. Sacred Ibises were expanding very quickly in France both in the north and on the Mediterranean coast having escaped from zoos and collections. In the latter area these birds were recorded taking eggs and young from colonies of egrets. There have been a number of records of Sacred Ibises in the UK and no doubt some came from this source. The French Government has taken a “Ruddy Duck” approach and these birds are now being removed by shooting. Whereas I used to see flocks of 20+ regularly in Southern France I have not seen one now for three years. It seems the eradication is working.

    A brutal but essential policy in dealing with an exotic species which is damaging our native birds.

  3. I think we should be more concerned about the arrival or release of non-native species. However “attractive” they may be. Unfortunately they don’t arrive with an “invasive alien” tag on them and they are relatively rare in species terms. This is fortunate, as most of our garden plants and food crops are aliens.

    I don’t want to see little egrets flapping about over the Test meadows, any more than I want to see rainbow trout in the backstream in Stockbridge High Street. This is a personal preference, mind – they may or may not be affecting the survival of amphibians, invertebrates or brown trout – but everything has to start somewhere. I like my Green and Pleasant and would like it to stay that way, thanks all the same.

    No doubt, once upon a time, somebody thought it would be nice to grow common rhododendron, policeman’s helmet or japanese knotweed – or that they couldn’t live without coypu, mink or muntjac.

    Perhaps strict liability for consequential loss of biodiversity and economic losses should apply to introducers, and vicarious liabilty to anyone who knowingly permits their actions. This would be consistent with the “polluter pays” principle.

    1. I think there is a distinction to be made between species that have arrived under their own steam, as it were, through extensions of their natural range and those that have piggy-backed here with international cargoes or been introduced accidentally by zoo-keepers and gardeners allowing them to escape from captvity. Much of our fauna and flora arived here by the first process since the last ice age and it is hard to see where one would draw a line after which any newcomers should be considered unwelcome.
      Personally I am therefore happy to welcome species such as the Little Egret, Cetti’s Warbler, say, into our country, which as far as I am aware have colonised entirely naturally.
      The artificially introduced species on the other hand do often seem to be a very serious threat and I am in favour of efforts to control or eliminate species such as Japanese Knotweed, Ruddy Ducks, Hedgehogs in the Hebrides and so on – and for that matter Sacred Ibis in France.

  4. The African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement requires that the Contracting Parties (which include the UK) shall:

    “prohibit the deliberate introduction of non-native waterbird species into the environment and take all appropriate measures to prevent the unintentional release of such species if this introduction or release would prejudice the conservation status of wild flora and fauna; when non-native waterbird species have already been introduced, the Parties shall take all appropriate measures to prevent these species from becoming a potential threat to indigenous species.”

    As Mark will, I’m sure testify, it’s better to take action when there are just a handful of birds (e.g. Sacred Ibises) than wait until there are several thousand (e.g. Ruddy Ducks).

    1. PeterD – yes, I’d agree with that. However, many introduced species die out without any intervention and many others are, in fact, benign additions. The tricky thing is spotting the species that will be a problem but we aren’t very good at doing that. That sacred ibis had a bit of a ‘I’m going to be trouble’ look about it to me.

  5. Hmmm, zoo’s seem to be losing birds all the time recently. Any fines being issued for such escapes. There was that Flamingo that romped around the country last year, the above mentioned Sacred Ibis from Chesire and now this Cattle Egret that has done a runner from Twycross Zoo here’s a link onto birdguides
    It seems so strange alot of birders are wishing this bird caught (should really) even more strange that some are wishing it shot!!! The very same people who moan when a raptor is killed by those wishing to shoot Pheasants etc, hypocrisy ladies and gentlemen, I can hear the shooting community saying “don’t like it when it happens to the birds you like” can’t you? How about the Little Egret? I have seen many times these birds raiding the nests of Reed Warblers, snatching juvenile Lapwings and Redshanks but there isn’t the will to cull these birds and rightly so.

  6. “How about the Little Egret? I have seen many times these birds raiding the nests …”
    “The tricky thing is spotting the species that will be a problem but we aren’t very good at doing that”.

    See: Murphy’s Law and the precautionary principle.

  7. I’m not sure where the hypocrisy comes in? I am quite happy for some if not all the aliens to be removed, sacred Ibis, black swan, ruddy duck, sika deer, muntjac, grey squirrel, american mink, giant hogweed, rhododendron et al. I’m also very happy that some species we have lost have been or are in a process of being returned, red kite, white tailed eagle, corncrake, crane, then htere is lynx etc which is seen a smore contraversial but still by many desirable but I will not tolerate the protected native being killed to protect the alien non native ” sporting” birds such as red legged partridge or pheasant. I believe that view is entirely logical and does not involve hypocrisy. As for those that arrive by thier own accord like little egret, collared dove , cetti’s warbler and great white egret, all I can say is isn’t nature great, bring it on.

  8. I agree Paul in regards to plant and animal species that are not native to this country and the problems they cause to the balance of the eco-system. The hypocrisy does exist however. To many game bird shooters they sadly do view their pheasants as native. They also believe it’s their right to shoot them, regardless if I or anyone else disagrees with it.
    The Sacred Ibis as been at Stanwick lakes for a few weeks now and because of a Spotted Crake also being present I’ve been to visit the site several times on EVERY visit I’ve heard several more “knowledgeable” and more respected birders than myself say “it should be shot”, “if it stays it’s going to be nuisance”. EXACTLY the same sentiments expressed by some (not all) gamekeepers in reference to Sparrowhawks,Buzzards,Goshawks and Golden Eagles etc. That’s the hypocrisy I refer to in my original comment. I did pull one of the chaps viewing the Ibis and ask why should it be shot and not just recaptured….no answer just a grunt followed by a mumble as the bloke walked away. It does remain an unanswered question, why when the bird has been reported for so many weeks, why hasn’t someone from the zoo try to recapture it.
    I can’t comment on the Great Egret/Little Egret, but in reference to the Collared Dove wasn’t that originally brought into the country by migrants, or did a certain BBC programme mis-inform me once again?

  9. Douglas,think you are confusing things ref what gamekeepers want to shoot.Come now that is irrelevant as all those birds are native of this country.
    Lots of us wish every pheasant in the country should be shot as they are not natural residents.
    Further confusion ref Little Egret,Great White Egret,Collared Dove,first two have arrived naturally and have never heard it suggested that the Collared Dove is anything else but a natural migrant.
    Do agree the Sacred Ibis should be caught if possible but for sure we do not want them to become established by escapees,now if it is a natural invasion that is completely different.

    1. Yep I hold my hands up in regards to the Collared Dove, I was mis-informed, I’m now trying my hardest to remember what BBC programme that said they had been brought to the country by people migrating from the far-east. Silly old BBC. Or maybe it was there introduction to USA….where they are an introduced species. But I’m still confused, if the bird is a natural introduction it’s ok, but if it’s introduced, like an escapee it’s not ok. Surely if the bird or any other species has no history in this country how can you tell what damage it’ll do the eco-system.

      1. Douglas – if a species is an exotic introduction, like ring-necked parakeet from India, or ruddy duck from America then, almost by definition, it is a species inserted into a different mix of native species. Experience shows us that this can often have serious consequences for the native fauna and/or flora. But if a species gets here naturally then, again, almost by definition, it is part of the same mix of species that it has coexisted with for millions of years and so we wouldn’t expect, and rarely see, any major impacts. And if there are any then we might put them down to being natural. Does that help?

        1. Sort of, I mean I’ve understood that introduction of a species deliberately/accidental like the Ruddy Duck and Ring Necked parakeet. I watch every winter 6 Ring Necked Para’s dominate my feeders denying smaller native species a chance to feed at a critical time of year. I also “get” the naturally introduced species side, but I’m going to play Devils Advocate here: What if the species was coexisting here naturally, was then wiped out by humans and was then re-introduced by humans (does that still count as a natural introduction) again in order to re-balance an eco system.
          With the Ruddy Duck and now the Ring Neck’s we let the species gain a foot hold, so much so the only option is to shoot them where if we had acted quicker in the first place we could’ve just rounded them up instead, it’s when people start to mention the killing of a species I get a bit “tense”.
          Sorry for hijacking your post Mark

          1. Douglas – reintroductions are seen as being very different from introductions. If we wipe out the red kite and then put it back into the ecosystem then it feels as though we have restored the ‘natural’ state of affairs. If we stick a completely new species in out countryside then sometimes, quite often, we get away with it causing no problems but sometimes the problems are large. And it’s difficult to know which case you have at the beginning.

            Prevention is better than cure – so not letting species out is a good idea. But then whose job is it to effect the cure? Should that sacred ibis be captured or killed or let alone? Who is responsible – the people who let it out, the landowners where it is or the government?

  10. Shoot the sacred ibis; they predate red grouse and other game birds at massive economic cost to landowners. They also steal and eat lambs given a chance and pass on bTB willy-nilly.

    There, that’ll do it.

  11. Hi Mark,
    In reference to your last paragraph, where public safety is not at threat then any escapee should recaptured alive. Obviously the next step up would be to tranqualise the animal then as a last resort shot. As for who does it/pays for it, well in this instance it HAS to be the zoo responsible for the animal. If the zoo hasn’t got the staff to chase the bird around then they have to pay someone to do it. Before Cheshire zoo was opened I’m pretty sure the local authority performed safety inspections, health visits etc before the zoo opened it’s gates to members of the public, who in turn no doubt pay an entrance fee and pay a huge mark up on soft drinks and food within the zoo. If the zoo even starts to moan about costs/logistical problems etc then perhaps the local authority need to look at any license’s that have been issued and perhaps look at closing the park.
    Also I believe if escapes keep happening then fines should be looked at for punishments for the offending zoo’s/wildlife sanctuary’s. At the moment as it seems to be mostly birds that are the biggest escapees’ but it raises questions how prepared are these facilities are to react if something bigger and posing more danger to the public’s safety was to escape.

    1. Douglas – that would be completely in keeping with the polluter pays principle. Shall we send the Canada goose bill to the Royal family, and ruddy duck to WWT?

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