Investigations

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Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Investigations

Read about our Investigations team, working hard to keep our birds and wildlife safe
  • Two persecuted peregrines, three surviving chicks: one successful rescue mission

    UPDATE: 8/6/17 

    Reaching new heights for conservation - guest post by Mark Thomas, RSPB Investigations 

    Yesterday the sight of a scruffy, fluffy peregrine chick gulping down a beakful of meat had a fair few of us punching the air. High atop Salisbury Cathedral’s tower (the highest in the country, as it turns out!), huddled around TV monitors, we watched as the cathedral’s nesting peregrine fed her new foster chick for the first time – signalling that the chick had been accepted into the nest. A few hours later, the footage went out to millions on Springwatch, and the whole country was able to share in our joy in this success story.

    This morning, we tuned into the live webcam and watched the new family snoozing together, huddled in an indistinguishable mass of feathers. The original chick seems happy with its new sibling, and both birds are being fed by the adults.

    Meanwhile, the other two orphan chicks have been successfully placed in a new nest in the Midlands. A job well done all round!

    VIDEO: Go behind the scenes with Mark Thomas as he describes his day. Turns out that getting the chick up the tower was only half the problem... Watch the video

    However the question of how the parent birds were killed still remains – this is now being investigated by police and we hope that someone will come forward with information. 

    Springwatch presenter Iolo Williams got in touch after last night's show to express his concern that birds like peregrines are being taken from our skies:

    “I cannot believe we are still dealing with incidents like this in the 21st century. The peregrine falcon is an iconic species; it's tragic that a few mindless idiots have robbed the people of Clee of one of its most spectacular birds.”

    UPDATE: 7/6/17


    Peregrine chick waiting to meet its new foster family at Salisbury Cathedral

    Over the weekend, we blogged about three peregrine chicks which were rescued from a nest in Shropshire after the parent birds were found illegally killed. The rescue went swimmingly – you can watch the video here! – but this left us with three fluffy, noisy peregrine chicks in need of a home.

    The decision was reached to foster the orphaned chicks into carefully-selected nests in the wild. A suitable nest was identified in the Midlands, and the third chick, the smaller male, would be fostered in the Salisbury Cathedral nest, as featured on Springwatch. Tune in on Wednesday night, BBC2, to see how the chick is getting on with his new family.

    Fostering has been done before, always with success, and was the only option in these extreme circumstances (keeping the chicks in captivity would have greatly limited their chance of success). Choosing the right foster nests, however, was crucial. We wanted families with no more than one or two chicks, of a similar age to our orphan chicks. Peregrine parents usually raise 2-4 young, and should accept a newcomer and raise it as its own. We also needed nests which were easy to access, so as to cause minimal disturbance. Better still, because the Salisbury Cathedral nest has a camera on it, we will be able to watch the chick’s progress!

    You can view the live webcam here

    “This has been an incredible conservation rescue mission,” said Mark Thomas, RSPB Principal Specialist. “Passionate people have worked together and gone above and beyond to save these birds – without everyone’s help this could not have succeeded.”

    With thanks to:

    Shropshire Peregrine Group
    South Peak Raptor Group
    Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF)
    Natural England
    Salisbury Cathedral
    Adventures Are Us
    West Mercia Police 

    Jean Thorpe 

    MQP                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

    Peregrine chicks rescued after adults found dead in Shropshire - guest post by Tim Jones of RSPB Investigations.

    Last Wednesday was shaping up to be a rather uninspiring office day at work, but as I’ve come to learn from this job, days can change in the blink of an eye.

    I got a call informing me that a peregrine falcon had been found dead at Clee Hill in Shropshire. There was no sign of the other adult and this left a nest of young chicks dependent and vulnerable. I quickly got my stuff together and set off, stopping to pick up Darren Thomas from Adventures Are Us who had hastily been recruited to do the climbing to rescue the chicks.

    As we were driving I was aware that, behind the scenes, frantic back-up calls were being made simultaneously by several staff at RSPB's UK Head Office in Sandy to inform the Police, Natural England, a vet and a raptor rehabilitation centre, amongst others.

     

    We arrived and met the local raptor workers – part of the Shropshire Peregrine Group who do a fantastic job looking after peregrines. Driving round to view the crag where the nest was, we saw the dead adult peregrine – an extremely sad sight lying on its back on the grass. Continuing on just a little further and I found the body of the other adult peregrine lying close to the original bird. A truly harrowing sight to see two of the fastest birds in the world lifeless on the ground. But there was still a chance to save the chicks.

    Liaising with quarry staff, Darren set up his ropes and then, naturally, it started raining! Knowing that the chicks were quite young (still fluffy and unable to protect themselves from the weather) it really was a race against time.

    While Darren descended towards the nest, I collected the bodies of the adult birds: these would be sent off for testing to determine the cause of death. I also fielded calls from Sandy HQ and kept them up to date with the situation.

    Before long, after a tense descent in unfavourable weather, Darren was safely back on the ground with three fluffy peregrine chicks. All three seemed healthy (if a little hungry) and they certainly let us know with lots of loud calling!


    Unfortunately, these kind of cases aren’t unusual in this job and I had strong suspicions. Nearby, we found a dead pigeon with its breast plucked clean, lying on its back almost directly above where the female peregrine was found. This was also carefully seized as an exhibit to be tested.

    As required to legally possess wild birds in these situations, we got the noisy chicks straight off to local vets for a check-up. After an 'all clear' from the vet, we gave the chicks their first feed in at least 24 hours. Needless to say they were very hungry and scoffed down all the food offered! With the chicks now settled and content we had the heads up that Jean Thorpe who runs a brilliant rehabilitation centre near York had agreed to take the birds.

    The birds arrived at Jean's in good condition and enjoyed another feed! It was clear they each had their own characteristics: the two larger females were very noisy and the little male quiet but clearly very eager to eat as much as he could to catch up with his sisters!

    Clee Hill has a history of Peregrine persecution and at this time it is strongly suspected that the dead birds have been deliberately and illegally poisoned.

    West Mercia Police Wildlife Crime Officer PC David Walton said: "We urge anyone with information about the death of these magnificent birds to come forward, quoting incident ref 0676 S 30/5/17.

    "I believe that, had it not been for the fast action of all parties working together, we would have certainly lost the chicks as well as the adults, which look to have been poisoned."

    A rewarding but sadly typical day fighting raptor persecution for the RSPB.

    Next, we hope to place the chicks into foster nests early next week - watch this space!

  • New arrivals for Nottinghamshire bee-eaters!

    After touching down in East Leake quarry on 25 June, the Nottinghamshire bee-eaters have successfully hatched chicks – just the third time this has happened in a decade.

    Nearly 10,000 people have come to see these spectacular birds, some travelling from as far afield as Cornwall and County Durham. But while visitors have been enjoying the birds, behind the scenes RSPB protection staff have been guarding three active nests. And we are delighted to announce that the first of the nests has hatched!

    UPDATE 26/7/17: It's a hat-trick! All three bee-eater nests have now hatched young.


    Dan Branch, RSPB

    Yesterday afternoon the behaviour of the adults attending 'nest 3' changed with a burst of visits and prey items going into the nest. The other two nests are now also on the verge of hatching and we expect all three will have young by the weekend.

    24hr wardening will continue until all the nests hopefully successfully fledge young. The threat of human disturbance has now been replaced with that of predators. A fox has been seen and deterred from the quarry several times in recent nights, so we still have a way to go.

    Bee-eaters and nest in burrows that reach up to 10ft (3m) often in sand banks, in which they lay 3-8 white eggs.

    Says Mark Thomas, RSPB senior investigations officer: “Bee-eaters are sociable birds and nest together in small groups. Often pairs will enlist the help of a single, younger bird to help bring food and rear their chicks. Bringing up junior is very much a community effort.”

    Birdwatchers can expert their first views of the chicks in around three weeks’ time, once they fledge.

    Please remember that bee-eaters are Schedule 1 species and their nests are protected from disturbance.

    Finally we would like to thank all the brilliant volunteers, CEMEX (particularly quarry manager Scott Saunders), Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, farmer Brian Burton and all the visitors!

    How to see the bee-eaters: Follow your sat nav to LE12 6RG. Car park open 6am-7pm at a cost of £5 (half of which goes straight back to the RSPB to help us protect the wildlife you love).

  • Come and see brilliant bee-eaters

    During the week of 15th June, the RSPB received one of those calls you don’t often forget! Employees at the Hanson Aggregates Quarry at Lower Gelt, near Brampton in Cumbria, had been puzzled by the appearance of several exotic-looking birds that had suddenly appeared in the quarry. Contact was made with RSPB via the Nature After Minerals project and two local RSPB staff were dispatched on a fact-finding mission!

    This is what they found!

    One of six bee-eaters in the quarry (Mark Thomas RSPB)

    Amazingly, a total of six bee-eaters were seen, hawking over the small sand quarry and courtship-feeding on the perimeter fence. Despite the fact that bee-eaters have bred in the UK on three occasions from 2002, this is still a very rare breeding bird and one needing full protection from the actions of egg collectors and unnecessary disturbance. The phone lines between the RSPB regional office in Newcastle and The Lodge were red-hot and plans were drawn up and rapidly actioned. The RSPB is proud to be have been involved in the previous breeding attempts and to be assisting this species with its colonisation of the UK. Talks with Hanson and the landowner, assisted by Cumbria Police, were very productive and protection wardening began almost immediately. Observations showed that two pairs of birds were nest-building and that the extra individuals were non-breeding ‘helpers’! Members of the local birding community were contacted and informed of the presence of the birds and brought on-board as very willing volunteers! Beyond the welfare of the birds always coming first, the RSPB’s aim in these situations is to attempt to provide a public viewing scheme, so spectacular birds can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. You can listen to a recent podcast featuring the work of the RSPB in protecting rare breeding birds, prepared by Charlie Moores as part of the Talking Naturally series. It was clear that Hanson and the landowner shared that belief and the location was absolutely perfect, with ample parking and good observation points.

    The viewpoint gives great views of the birds (Mark Thomas RSPB)

    We are pleased to announce that the viewing scheme is now operational and the location can be found on the map below. Please follow all on-site instructions and under no circumstances enter the active quarry. The site is open from 8 am until 8 pm daily, with a number of RSPB staff and quality telescopes on hand to assist you with your visit. There is a £5 parking fee at the land owners request. 

    We hope you enjoy your visit!

    For general enquiries, contact Mark Thomas on 01767 680551 For media enquiries, contact Chris Collett on 0191 233 4300