Protected birds poisoned?

Deceased female red kite on three eggs pictured by Alan Ferguson.
Deceased female red kite on three eggs pictured by Alan Ferguson.

RSPB NI and the PSNI are appealing to the Banbridge community for information after a pair of protected red kites died through illegal poisoning in the Katesbridge area.

A male bird was found in distress close to a known nest site on April 24. A member of the public alerted RSPB NI but the bird died shortly afterwards. When the RSPB NI red kite project officer attended the scene, she found the female parent bird immobile on the nest – she too was dead. A rescue mission was launched in an attempt to save three orphaned eggs found in the nest beneath the deceased mother.

The bodies of the parent birds were collected and taken for toxicology testing by the PSNI. This has now revealed that both birds – known as Blue 21 and Red 63 because of their identifying tags - died from Carbofuran poisoning.

Red kites, along with all birds of prey, are protected in Northern Ireland under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, as amended by the Wildlife and Natural Environment (NI) Act 2011. Carbofuran is a highly toxic pesticide which has been banned across the EU since 2001 due to its high toxicity towards wildlife and humans.

Red kites mostly hunt within 2.5km of their nest site. The male bird brings food for the incubating female bird, so it is possible that the male bird found a poisoned bait – such as a rabbit – and likely brought this back to the nest to feed the female bird. The dead male’s first partner (Blue 13) also died by poisoning in 2014 in the same area.

Under licence from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), the rescue operation ensured that the three eggs were fostered into two wild red kite nests, alongside other eggs, in the hope of saving them.

In one of the nests two transferred eggs failed as they were found intact (unhatched) during a follow-up inspection. In the other nest - which hosted one adoptive egg alongside two other eggs - one chick was found on the nest. As there were no egg shell remains it’s unknown if the sole chick on this nest was from the donor egg.

A nestcam was installed by RSPB NI to monitor this chick – which was named ‘Solo’ by RSPB NI red kite volunteers. This is the first time staff have been able to monitor behaviour and development as well as share the red kite’s early life with the public and schools participating in the RKites project, a funded red kite education and engagement project. A live stream on the nest is available to view at www.rspb.org.uk/niredkites

PSNI Wildlife Liaison Officer, Emma Meredith, said: “Incidents such as this give rise to concerns, as poisons are generally very dangerous. We would have serious concerns over any poison but particularly over Carbofuran. We are disappointed that we are still dealing with cases involving Carbofuran, an incredibly dangerous substance and one which can kill birds of prey but also a child, family pet or any adult coming into contact with it. We would remind the public that if they discover a bird of prey that they suspect has been poisoned or killed in any other suspicious circumstances to leave the bird/s and/or bait in situ and call the PSNI as soon as possible.

“If anyone has information about the use of Carbofuran and/or the death of these protected birds then we would be really keen to hear from them. The person responsible needs to be identified to ensure that no further risk is posed to other wildlife, domestic pets, or even humans.”

Claire Barnett, RSPB NI Conservation Team Leader added: “We are shocked and saddened by what is the loss of a generation of red kites. With only around 20 breeding pairs in Northern Ireland, our red kite population is particularly vulnerable to persecution. Carbofuran is an illegal and deadly poison and should not be used in our countryside. It is such an incredibly dangerous substance.

“We would like to once again make it clear that red kites are mostly scavengers and feed on roadkill and other dead animals they find on their foraging flights. During the breeding season, adults will often hunt young crows, magpies, rats and rabbits. They are no threat to livestock or game.”

Red kites were persecuted to extinction across the island of Ireland 200 years ago. A decade ago this summer, in 2008, the RSPB - along with project partners the Golden Eagle Trust and Welsh Kite Trust - began a reintroduction project that has been successful in encouraging the birds to breed here.

Like all birds of prey in Northern Ireland, red kites are specially protected as a Schedule 1 species under The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (as amended). As a Schedule 1 bird, red kites are protected by special penalty and their nests are also provided with protection all year under Schedule A1. Those found guilty of persecution could be given a custodial sentence and/or fines of up to £5,000 per offence.

Mark Thomas, Senior Investigations Officer at the RSPB, said: “Carbofuran has a history of being used to kill birds of prey. Like all birds of prey, red kites are protected by law.

“There have been ten confirmed red kite persecution incidents recorded in this area in the last decade. This is not acceptable. We urge anyone with information about this incident to contact the police immediately on 101.”

Claire Barnett added, “We would like to thank communities, landowners and schools across Northern Ireland - particularly in County Down and County Armagh - for their ongoing support for the red kites project. There is always an outpouring of outrage when red kite persecutions are reported. It is so disappointing that a minority of people continue to endanger red kites by using illegal poisons including Carbofuran. But the majority of people here are behind the RSPB in our work to give these remarkable birds of prey a home in Northern Ireland.”

Anyone with information can contact police on the non-emergency number 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. quoting reference number 802 of 24/4/18.