21 September 2015

Meet Dexter, the airborne pest control officer

When it comes to a battle between a bird of prey and a herring gull or a pigeon, no prizes for guessing who wins.

They are natural enemies so what better way to control the ever-increasing numbers of pigeons and gulls that are finding a home scavenging amongst the human litter that seems to accumulate constantly in our big cities than to scare away those scavengers with birds of prey.

In the main, companies like Falconry Services use two types of bird, the Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus) (below) and the Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) (above). The Saker Falcon came originally from Russia and central Europe but is now hand-reared in the UK, while the Harris Hawk is native to the Americas and a specialist in flying in the close confines of a city landscape.

Animal lovers don’t despair, the birds of prey don’t actually harm or kill the gulls and pigeons. Their mere presence in the skies above the city buildings and the ear-piercing cries they emit are enough to advertise that this territory belongs to them.

Part of Cardiff Castle

Here in Cardiff, sites like Cardiff Castle, the Millennium Stadium and Cardiff Central Library all employ specialist falconry companies for just this purpose. The falconers fly their birds over and around these landmarks, in the process deterring those pesky gulls and pigeons from feeding and, worse, nesting at those places.

Cardiff's Millennium Stadium

Not only does this prevent damage to buildings from bird droppings (the acidic nature of their excrement corrodes building materials), but it also prevents the blocked drains and obstructions to chimneys and gas flues caused by nesting materials. Pigeons also carry diseases, some of which are potentially harmful to humans, so discouraging their increasing urban populations is a very good idea.

Meet Dexter

During a recent visit to Cardiff castle, I had the privilege of ‘meeting’ Dexter, a magnificent but extremely noisy Saker Falcon, and two of his much calmer and quieter feathered friends, a pair of Harris Hawks. I hope you enjoy these photographs of them.

And next time you see a hawk or falcon flying over the city skyline, remember it might not be a wild bird. Instead, it might be carrying out essential pest control work: gulls and pigeons be aware, your presence is not welcome here.

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