Wild hacking

Tuesday’s blog about the licensing, by SNH, of wild hacking of Gyr Falcons attracted a lot of comments and not a little amazement from people. Imagine driving along a quiet road and finding this falcon.

Falcon racing is sometimes the motivation for captive breeding of falcons and their wild hacking (see also here). When you don’t have many bustards (Houbaras or Macqueens) left to hunt with falcons then you need another sport to test your falcons. And breeding falcons can be a lucrative business (see here and here). I’m told that hybrid falcons are some of the fastest, and therefore most prized, and most valuable, birds. It’s a very different world from the one that I know, but breeding facilities clearly exist in the UK.

SNH required a bird survey of the area before consenting the licence to release 150 Gyr Falcons (but no more than 40 at once) into the Moray countryside. This survey was carried out on one day (actually 31 May 2019), covered the area within just 1km of the release site, and only was required to collect evidence of breeding Schedule 1 birds. Hmmm.

SNH still haven’t responded to the EIR request made by local residents. Since a condition of this licence was that all birds had to be fitted with GPS devices and radio transmitters, and that SNH had to be ‘notified immediately’ of any birds moving more than 2km from the hack box for longer than ’12-36 hours’ (!) it will be interesting to learn how many, if any, did do this and when SNH was notified. That information should be available soon – surely SNH will be keen to release it.

PS There is a general election today – please go out and vote. Polling stations are open 07:00 to 22:00.

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21 Replies to “Wild hacking”

  1. There are still houbaras left for hunting, you can obviously buy the right to hunt them in Pakistan. See article in The Times last year (December 8, 2018) 'Arabs buy right to kill protected birds in Pakistan'.

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    1. Sonja - yes there are, but fewer and fewer, and few in some countries where they were once hunted with flacons.

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  2. I might go up there with a bag of frozen chicks and a big landing net in my van. It might be a good way to supplement my pension, flogging hooky falcons on E-Bay! I wonder how many of their transmitters/locators have stopped working in suspicious circumstances?

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    1. Seriously, if they're worth so much, why don't they get nicked?

      I'm not even sure it would be stealing - if non native captive bred Pheasants aren't livestock and have no legally responsible owner when they are out of the pen, why should non native captive bred falcons out of the pen still "belong" to anyone?

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    2. I think you might have a problem with the registration rings Norman. It is however a tempting prospect, one thing is for sure I would take some better pictures of them.

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  3. “…and that SNH had to be ‘notified immediately’ of any birds moving more than 2km from the hack box for longer than ’12-36 hours.(!)”

    I know the ‘nightmare’ of the election is probably getting to me….. but on reading this, a strange picture came into my mind of SNH licensed patrols on 24-hour duty in camouflage gear, stopwatches, tape-measures, nets and torches in hand, trying to ensure no straying over the line!

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  4. I read somewhere a few years back that the Arabs were rearing Houbaras in captivity and releasing them to restock the area's they have disappeared from so they can still hunt them in the future, with regards to Gyr falcons they will fly 40 miles away just for fun according to an old falconry friend of mine who gave up flying them

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    1. Yes I recall seeing a feature not so long ago about houbaras being reared artificially and it didn't take much reading between the lines to realise it was for hunting purposes - rather sickening.

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    1. I know a retired Gamekeeper that saw one there Mike.
      I used to have to contact him before I checked some Peregrine sites ( nearly always empty). On one occasion He said that in the previous month ( Feb) he had seen a falcon as big as a buzzard roost at one of the sites " all white with black speckles all over it." Although I've always wondered if he shot it, I told him if it or another appeared again to ring me immediately------ he never did.
      Although it was never officially accepted several of us saw an undoubted grey and white Gyr on the East Nidderdale Moors several times in the winter of 1998. The first time I saw it was as it mobbed a buzzard, the words of exclamation in my head are unprintable, it was about the same size and very pale but as fast as a Peregrine---- the buzzard lost no time in leaving the scene!

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      1. I have seen a few buzzards mobbed by Gyr falcons so I know exactly how you felt. It is so depressing to watch especially when there is nothing you can do to help.

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        1. I didn't find it depressing at all, the evidence was the bird was wild not a hack bird or escape and wouldn't let anyone within 150 m of it. to watch it was unbelievably exciting. I've also seen one in northern Sweden and it was also exciting.
          I've watched birds usually but not always buzzards ( once a Goshawk being mobbed and hit by a Merlin) being mobbed by other raptors and always find it exciting. What's the problem nobody gets hurt and it is normal raptor behaviour. Young Peregrines do it all the time to hone their flying skills.

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          1. Yes, I was talking about captive bred Gyr falcons - 40 of them flying around. Totally out of kilter with our natural environment. Not the same as your situation, I agree.

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          2. My turn to say hmmmhh now. Really: a wild!! gyr staying (nesting?) for several months in the Yorkshire dales? I heard they are sighted in the north of Scotland occasionally, but not that far south.
            Be that as it may, what you are saying about its behaviour (normal, of course, for a raptor) is interesting because you are talking about one single gyr. Wondering about the cumulative effect of 40 (or more) being released at a time. Nothing normal about that because gyrs (and other birds of prey) simply don't occur in the wild in large numbers or in groups. They are solitary birds, or am I wrong?

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    2. But I don't think resident wildlife would share your enthusiasm. It wouldn't be long before you'd see little other than gyrs. And when they'd all been shipped off to the Middle East, all you'd have is a memory of what the countryside used to be.

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      1. Neither Gyr was nesting in North Yorkshire. One, the white one was seen on one occasion by a Nidderdale keeper, it may also have been the same bird seen previously that winter a couple of times in Swaledale by another keeper. Wild white Gyrs come from Greenland and the eastern Canadian arctic, a very few visit western European areas for winter, they favour Ireland and the Western Isles but have been seen all over the UK, often not leaving until late May.
        The grey and white bird was first found in late September and last seen in early March.
        Mobbing raptors are usually just that and rarely kill what they mob, the buzzards will still be there after the Gyrs are gone. I accept that a number of Gyrs in one place is hardly natural for the UK ( it might be in migration hotspots in Greenland).
        Birds being hacked are just learning to fly and are generally poor hunters and feed on food provided at the hack box or trapping sites. Once flying efficiently they are taken back into captivity.
        However much as we all, including me, have qualms and major questions about this, lets not fall into the trap about predators and the environment the dark side use.
        Captive rearing and hacking notably of Gyrs and Sakers is still much more preferable to birds being taken as nestlings or trapped from the wild for falconry, let's keep that in mind.

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        1. If the young falcons are fed inside the hack box and are not hunting, then what is the impact on local wildlife? Surely there are other more serious impacts affecting bird populations such as habitat change.

          It has also been mentioned that hacked falcons have dive bombed people and pets. This seems strange as most raptors are usually scared of people and dogs and so would not attack except possibly breeding birds defending their nest site. Have a the hacked falcons attacked anyone?

          I have spent some time with Arab Falconers and they are passionate about falcons and the their prey. Provided the hunting is sustainable then I don’t see there being an issue.

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          1. The damage is done when ground nesting birds, for instance, abandon their nests (eggs or chicks), under large numbers of predatory birds circling overhead! Even before the mobbing starts.

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  5. Okay thanks. As the hacking only starts towards the end of June, wouldn’t many of the ground nesting birds be towards the end of the breeding season and past the most sensitive time of incubation and early chick rearing? Indeed, by July and August I thought many upland waders would be moving away for the nesting sites and to more lowland and coastal areas.

    Or are you saying once the hacking starts all other birds disappear from the area?

    Re mobbing I agree with Paul V Irving’s comment that provided none of the birds are injured, then it shouldn’t be an issue.

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    1. Paul - who knows? Maybe this is something that needs to be considered caredfully in the licensing procedure? The licence allows wild hacking from 1 June so SNH apparently put no constraints on releases through the time that waders and most other species would indeed be nesting.

      I can see that this is a relatively new and unfamiliar licensing task but it is the job of the statutory agencies only to license activities which do not harm nature.

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