Raptors at risk as effective scare decoys to parasitic birds

Our campaign against poisoning of wildlife has for the past 4 years focused on the special ground case of Bunyala. Bunyala is remotely located and otherwise latent atrocities against wildlife are easily detected here compared to less remote sites in our republic thereby offering an opportunity to illustrate the threat issues (starting with poisoning), flag up these conservation concerns and furnish the public on the status quo and relevant authorities on need to act. The latter and ultimate intended aim has however on the general remained unattended to leaving us with no options but to act in our own capacity however small.

In our vigilance approach to minimize/prevent the indiscriminate poisonings of birds….and most probably humans in Bunyala, my team and I stumbled on bird trapping/snaring of birds particularly raptors during September 2012. The first discovered case of LOST the Long Crested Eagle snared & killed in Bunyala was an awakening call to watch out for all threats to birds for their protection. The perpetrator’s defence was that the bird habitually took on his newly hatched chicks, a genuinely understandable reason but even then, decent, effective screens/shields for baby chickens against raptors are locally available and sold cheaply. My scouts however purport that some raptors are snared for human consumption. The Long Crested Eagle is a locally abundant species at the site and is said not to be spared by some of the bird-eaters. When I rescued LOST, one onlooker stated in local vernacular that ‘this boy has just snatched away one hell of a rooster that would have supplemented Ugali’. From my stand point, this is sufficiently authentic of the raptor-eating allegation.

It has now emerged that there is more than one motive to killing raptors at the rice irrigation scheme. Raptors kill smaller birds for their meal. I reckon one or two well-fleshed queleas/weaver birds per day are sufficient for an accipiter, a large kestrel or a falcon. Larger raptors like the Ayres’s Hawk Eagle in the locality may go for larger doves but then again just a couple of these per day are adequate. Hundreds of thousands of smaller birds come to feed at the rice scheme which at the moment is a combination of habitats ideal for all species. Certain plots are fallow while others are flooded and being readied for planting. A few have the crop ready and is being harvested but in a majority, the rice crop is maturing up. The maturing/mature crop is the main attractant for parasitic seedeaters and raises concern for raptors which local farmers are aware terrify the seed-eating raiders but are crudely and unsustainably harnessing this use of raptors.

maturing Rice crop

Rice Crop in maturing stage


Bunyala Rice FieldsRice field with crop at different developmental stages; in the foreground the crop is almost ready; in the middle ground & further out the crop is still in the vegetative state

 Locust birds

Hundreds of thousands of seedeaters arriving at Bunyala Rice Scheme at dawn

As the raptors hunt in the natural setting, they certainly cause panic as they ambush the smaller birds and the emanating frenzy sends the assailed birds scurrying and scattering away from the rice field. However, the shock wave is only effective over a narrow front of just a few acres leaving many thousands hectares unscathed with the parasitic hordes enjoying their cereal meal!

We have observed that most modes of scaring away the likes of queleas, waxbills and weavers from the crop are ineffective. These range from vocal cord ripping yells, hitting or churning of shakers to human-form scarecrows otherwise just secured polythene bags flapping in the wind. The case of suspending hawks in mid-air to mimic a raptor on decent to a kill is said to work wonders and keeps most if not all parasitic bird species from destroying the rice crop. Our latest victim is a Grey Kestrel that a poacher employed his taxidermy skills to preserve the bird’s feathers and body in perfect condition but for the messed up head and neck that the snap-trap struck the subject.

Grey Kestrle, carcas

Snared then propped Grey Kestrel decoy to scare parasitic birds from rice fields

In an attempt to find out if for sure this method works, I picked a random neighboring plot and realized the farmer in the nearby plot actively engaged in chasing away the birds by hitting on some percussion container (plastic container laden with stones) as the raiding locust birds stubbornly gorged on his crop. The farmer in the plot with the suspended preserved kestrel sat down clearly with little or no concern for the parasitic birds I bet from guaranteed security from the poor murdered watchman’s carcass guarding over his farm!

Scare-ccrow & human watchmen

Scaring away queleas, weavers & waxbills using human-form scarecrows & human watchmen; also note suspended polythene bags flapping in wind in the background

 Hawk scare

Lazy farmer enjoying the services of a killed kestrel to keep off parasitic queleas, weavers & waxbills

This is not the only incident and my scouts describe at least one other incident of a raptor that I infered to be the African Marsh Harrier, possibly a juvenile from their description (a mostly all-brown raptor with some white speckling on the nape region  harrying just above the rice fields, head down-facing,).

In seeking a solution, one is quickly forced to suggest toxic aerial spraying which we know full well falls in the very category of the misdeeds that our campaign seeks to address. This is because aerial spraying would be indiscriminate, affecting other species and also raptors when they go for the easy, dying intoxicated smaller birds with a further translocation of the poison (and resultant poisoning) to areas afar by the intoxicated, but still able to fly birds. I wish to ask yet again anyone/experts to share information of known effective methods of scaring the parasitic birds away which we could possibly introduce in Bunyala and help conserve our raptors.

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  1. Posted April 20, 2013 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    Thanks for an interesting article which most certainly provides food for thought to those of us concerned with similar issues elsewhere where subsistence farming is a common practice. Certainly worth investigating locally.

  2. Noam Weiss
    Posted April 21, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Having birds of prey in the fields surely helps, but they don’t have to be dead. Attracting them to fields is not very hard if you provide them with what they need – perches and nest boxes. A perch, in a strategic point for the bird of prey will keep in the area the farmer needs it. A nesting box might keep it there for a season. You have to know each bird of prey and what it likes – a kestrel will enjoy a high stick or pylon near an open area. A hawk – a tree next to vegetation etc… nesting boxes – also according to the species, you might get them for longer periods. I don’t know what kind of predators you have there and their habits, but a short study and a few days of observations will give you the clue. I’ll be happy to help more if needed. We have some experience with it in Israel.

  3. Posted April 21, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Andre for sharing this article & Noam for proposing the solution. I shall definately contact you (Noam) to tap into your Israeli experience after some additional background information. We are able to gather this as my team just started on at least a 1 year survey for raptors and their threats about & beyond the rice scheme (while minimising opportunities for perpetration of poisoning or any other sort of bird killing). Just quickly however, the idea of killing raptors before using them to keep away smaller species eliminates the threat of domestic chicken kills, itself the reason why raptors are not favored alive by the locals. The situation would be easier if the rice plantation was set apart from human settlements. This was the case before 2009 but since then the government promised locals sure wealth with maximized rice production and from thence the plantation’s expansion (now at over 5000ha & still growing) has seen homes circumcultivated and these are part of the plantation with their inhabitants, livestock & chicken. The latter’s killing by raptors is a sure source of conflict.
    Keep posting your contributions & keep reading

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