Wednesday 18 September 2019

Mystery death of a young bird of prey

Don't shoot: Buteo buteo
Don't shoot: Buteo buteo

Joe Kennedy

There was a look of naive acceptance in the eyes of a crouched bird on an iPhone image sent to me last week. This was of a young buzzard (Buteo buteo) found in a north Leinster field by an agriculture professional going about his job. It had been wing-shot and was in a poor state.

The phone image came from a regular correspondent - PG, of Co Louth - a person who cares about the countryside and the creatures that inhabit it. He took the young buzzard to his house to examine the damage. The bird was weak and died before it could be taken to a vet. It may have been lying in the field for a couple of days.

The question is who would have shot at an immature bird (the species has been increasing in numbers in the Boyne Valley area) and left it lying for dead?

Buzzards may be listed as birds of prey but they cause no distress to any creatures except to small mammals such as rats and voles, which they eat, and have spotted from overhead. Essentially they feed on carrion.

The US Nobel Laureate William Faulkner had considerable admiration for buzzards, a bird not envied or hated by anyone, he said.

He told an interviewer in the Paris Review in the 1950s: "You know that if I were reincarnated I'd want to come back as a buzzard. Nothing hates him or envies him or wants him or needs him. He is never bothered or in danger and he can eat anything."

As far as I am aware, Faulkner never visited here though he enjoyed Irish music and folk songs, perhaps indicative of Ulster ancestry. One wonders what he would have thought of buzzards being shot in Ireland.

Then, this incident could have been a matter of identity; the shooter could have mistaken it for a carrion crow.

Members of gun clubs are sensitive about pheasant welfare. Some are occasionally blamed for shooting at anything overhead while they are out and about checking their 'territory'.

I was once, many years ago, a member of a gun club. As I kept some poultry I could also have pheasant eggs hatch out under broody bantam 'mothers'. The membership was generally colourful, to say the least. At times there appeared to be considerable gaps in birdlore knowledge.

I recall the club secretary once having to patiently explain why hen birds were not shot - they laid eggs which hatched into chicks which eventually became adult pheasants adding to the club's stock!

There is a perception that buzzards take young pheasants, my correspondent pointed out. Not so. As he frustratingly asked: "Why can't some people in this country leave birds of prey alone?"

"There's a dead bird in your chimney," says a character in John McGahern's play for radio, Sinclair (not about bird shooting but rather thieving wood with a chainsaw).

There are dead birds in the collective memory chimneys of some country folk when it comes to blasting feathered lives out of the skies. The poor dead adolescent buzzard didn't bother any person or creature and became an unlucky pot-shot for a bored human with a shotgun walking through a field.

Sunday Independent

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