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Old 14th November 2011, 03:10 PM   #1
Peggo
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Default What has suddenly started killing the birds

Over the last 4 weeks I have found six piles of feathers on the lawn under the feeder. 3 goldfinches, a greenfinch and two others. My feeder is about 10 feet from our shed at the back of the garden. My initial hunch was that a cat was using the shed as cover to get within striking distance of the feeder and then ambushing the birds on the ground so I put netting up to block access to the lawn from behind the shed.

All was well for over a week and then yesterday we missed by a matter of minutes another strike. All that is left after every strike is a mass of feathers with no body in sight. My wife - who is a cat lover - maintains that a cat would simply catch the bird and take it home in one piece. I'm not convinced but am willing to concede that it could be something else like a sparrowhawk although I've never seen one around here in 15 years. The fact that 3 of the victims were goldfinches and they very rarely touch down on the lawn is probably the one thing that stops me laying the blame squarely at a cat's flap.

Does anyone have a clue as to the most likely culprit?

Cheers...
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Old 14th November 2011, 11:04 PM   #2
Pine Marten
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Hi peggo. By the desciption you gave. I would say it is a bird of prey. They leave piles of feathers.

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Old 15th November 2011, 07:35 AM   #3
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Like Pine Marten, my thoughts would definitely be a male sparrowhawk - that size of bird would be his mark. Once they discover a feeding table and have a kill, they return.
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Old 15th November 2011, 08:34 AM   #4
Peggo
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Thanks for the responses guys. I will keep an eye out and let you know if I see anything. We were in the kitchen most of Sunday afternoon, we went out for a minute and when we came back in the deadly deed had been done.

Would a sparrowhawk always take its prey away, we've never found any bodies. I also noticed a pile of pigeon feathers on my neighbours lawn, would a sparrowhawk tackle a pigeon or has a peregrine moved in too?
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Old 15th November 2011, 09:37 AM   #5
Alastair
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Sparrowhawks eat everything except the feathers and beak of their prey
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Old 15th November 2011, 09:51 AM   #6
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Cheers Alastair. Are they more inclined to eat it where they caught it or take it away somewhere else to eat? I'm just wondering what the chances of me seeing it in action are. I'm in the house most days and spend a fair bit of time watching to garden but I haven't seen any predator yet.
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Old 15th November 2011, 10:24 AM   #7
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Some birds of prey have what is called a pecking post. That may be for owls not quite sure if hawkes do the same. But they will pluck it where they made the kill, and devour their quarry.

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Old 20th November 2011, 03:02 PM   #8
Peggo
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Default Finally found out...

We came back into the house today to catch a magpie in the act, butchering a goldfinch.

I doubt if there is much we can do about this. I already scare the magpies off when I see them in the garden.

Does anyone have any ideas? I don't want to see a rogue magpie decimating the song bird population in the garden. Yes, I know it's natural but I don't want it happening in our garden.
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Old 22nd November 2011, 10:07 AM   #9
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Hi Peggo, i've just had a word with our wildlife advisor here at CJs, Martin George, he reckons . . . Magpies can’t normally catch healthy, free-flying birds so suspect's that the Goldfinch in question was sick or injured? He says Late autumn normally sees the annual peak in diseased birds so think's there’s a fair chance that it was a moribund bird that was picked off.
Martin also added . . . Apart from practising good feeding station hygiene there’s very little that can be done to prevent incidents such as this, but if the Goldfinch was moribund then its prospects were poor any way. In the longer term, increasing the amount of cover available will give birds a refuge in which they are more likely to escape predators. The best option is evergreen, thorny cover, as provided by shrubs such as berberis, holly, mahonia or pyracantha, many varieties of which offer the added bonus of berries.

i wonder whether a cat could be the main culprit as they often have the urge to hunt but are too well-fed to need to eat what they’ve caught. and the magpie was just taking advantage of the kill?

anyway, hope all this helps!
Rowena



Last edited by Rowena; 22nd November 2011 at 10:09 AM. Reason: spelling mistake
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Old 22nd November 2011, 10:46 AM   #10
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Hi Rowena, thanks for your info. Not sure about the sick birds. If that's the case it doesn't look good for the population in our garden since there have been 8 strikes now. We must have a lot of sick birds if that's the case.

Like yourselves I wouldn't have thought a magpie would be agile enough to catch a healthy small bird. The fact that the magpies have been around since we put the feeders up and this has only started happening over the last two months makes it a bit stranger. I'm almost certain it's not a cat now because as I say the goldfinches hardly ever land on the lawn. I've only ever seen them do that when all the feeders were occupied and this hasn't been happening recently.

We didn't actually see the magpie catch the goldfinch on Sunday but I'm pretty certain it did. I've now taken the suet away from the main feeder and hung it in some hawthorn as it was the suet attracting magpies into the garden in the first place. We'll see if that makes a difference.

Maybe it's just one magpie that has become particularly adept at catching other birds. I'm thinking of getting a cheap webcam to try and get some footage of what's happening. It's all very interesting and it would be nice to know for sure what's going on.

We already have a fair bit of cover and vegetation in our garden and the neighbouring gardens.
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