A couple of years ago my elder stepson had a flock of hens and bantams and a fine rooster comfortably foraging about his home in Snowdonia. Now, only one hen and the rooster remain. One by hapless one the rest have been picked off by a goshawk. The same thing happened about five years ago to the ducks that were always carefully shut up in their wooden house at night for fear of foxes and polecat. Only the forlorn drake remained and was re-homed with friends in a more duck-friendly area.
Goshawks are among our larger raptors, the female being the size of a buzzard, and their preferred habitat is coniferous or mixed woodland where they dash through the trees with amazing speed and agility. I’ve only ever seen one locally, several years ago, when it flew with heavy wing-beats along a distant row of trees in Timble Ings. Practically extinct in England, Wales remained their UK stronghold. Experts argued that birds like my Timble one were escapes from falconry collections. However, since stepson Chris lives in Wales and in the middle of a large forestry area, it’s not surprising that goshawks are his close neighbours and, since they no doubt have young in the nest at present, that a collection of plump poultry should be a soft target. So, no fresh hen eggs on the family menu for the foreseeable future.
The goshawk and its prey were much in my thoughts last week as I watched the latest Springwatch on television. Minsmere RSPB Reserve has faced a similar dilemma. The famous “Scrape” – the lagoon where, on an island, a growing population of avocets, the RSPB logo birds, nest along with other waders – has been raided in the night by one of the Reserve’s badgers, the calories from a feast of eggs and chicks being well worth the swim and the sodden fur.
These are not only problems for specialists: I’ve certainly mourned a garden robin, fallen victim to a hunting sparrowhawk. The UK is now an almost entirely man-made environment: our agriculture, our roads and housing, our gardens, our nature reserves – all constrict, constrain and direct our wild neighbours. Reserves and, of course, bird-friendly gardens, provide welcome sources of food and homes and therefore artificially concentrate both prey and predators. It’s not surprising problems arise. We certainly need to be as well-informed and as wise as possible to manage it all. It’s not easy.
Photo by Ken Billington (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons