Coping With Birds Of Pray

by Adel Salem

Birds of prey are among many contributing factors to domestic flying pigeon losses. They are also the chief reason that many fanciers have relinquished flying certain breeds or resorted to others. The purpose of this article is to discuss ways to limit those losses. A brief discussion of the four chief Raptors that are directly involved in attacking Pigeons is included. 

Both the Cooper (Chicken Hawk) and the Sharp Shined-Hawk seem to be the chief predators in North America. They resemble each other to a great deal; however the Cooper is slightly larger. They are found as far North as Canada and extend south to America and Costa Rica. They spend most of their time in their breeding ground in the northern states during the summer time and migrate south during winter, following their prey and seeking warmer climate. The middle states provide temporary hunting grounds while the birds are migrating. Some Raptors don't migrate because of milder climate and adequate prey supply. Their method of hunting is skimming over trees and houses and collapsing on their prey with thrusting speed and accuracy. A favorite attack posture comes while birds attempt to land. The Goshawk, which has great resemblance to a Cooper, but slightly larger is limited to the Northern America and Europe. It hunts similarly to those of the Coopers with astonishing timing as they thread through trees and tight corners. 

The Red Tail, which is the largest among the Hawks, feeds mostly on Rodents and small animals and relies on ambushing its prey. It is endogenous in America and because it's bulky size, it moves slower than the rest of the flying predators. Its damage is limited among young birds before they become capable of flying. The Peregrine Falcon (Duck Hawk) has around seventeen species worldwide. It covers all continents except Antarctica, and has two species in North America. It has nearly the same body size as a Cooper; however much longer wings reaching nearly to his tail end. A quality suited for aerial maneuvering than stalking. 

San Diego is among several US cities that harbors a breeding program, intended to introduce and stabilize Peregrine population. This has created his presence year around in San Diego area. Few tend to stay locally, but ironically the majority move north to Oregon and Washington for better nesting grounds. It hunts by attacking birds directly without relying on the element of surprise and usually at higher altitudes. Its approach is marked by strong signal from a flying kit sending it higher in a tight formation. In the past seven years I lost one Swift to the Peregrine despite his daily attacks at times. A good flying Swift has a great maneuvering ability because of his long wings and tail. Its mechanism of escape relies on avoiding taking a steep dive all the way ahead of the attacking Peregrine, instead it climes up hill against it before continuing to slide downward. The repetition of this movement forms a zigzagging line. The speed of forming this motion is what makes the difference between life and death for many birds. How could we minimize Raptors threat? We all have slightly different methodology depending on our territory and experience. I will list them according to their efficacy for me. Nonetheless we must expect an exception to the predator behavior at all the times. They wouldn't have been a threatening factor if they were predictable. 

Cull heavy: Weak birds tend to lag behind, thus inviting predators. A strong group of youngsters at 11 to 12 weeks should be able to fly high enough for few minutes when disturbed. Those lagging behind will either be culled or snatched. Culling includes excessive long wings and birds with slow mobility. Avoid training during Cooper season: Train young birds when you know that the Hawk season is about over in your area. Once trained well, you should be able to continue flying them as the Hawk return with hardly any loses. Limit numbers of flying kit: A kit of less than or around twenty birds should fly smoothly. Less than that is even ideal. Small numbers can move around quickly and scout for longer time. Missing birds while scouting is not a common thing, indicating that a predator targets mostly localized flying kits. Most of the losses come when they circle slowly before landing. 

Don't fly malting birds: Swifts are vulnerable during malt. Those long wings become a burden as some birds loose several primaries at once. Malt starts from August and well to the end of November. Don't fly immediately after heavy storm: There is usually little prey activity during the storm, thus forcing a predator to hunt aggressively as soon as it's over. They had attacked the kit nearly each time it flew in partially clear skies after few rainy days. After a storm, I suggest you skip a day or two. Don't fly late in the day: A sure way of loosing birds to a Cooper is flying them late in the day during the Cooper season. In Egypt it is the essence of competition to start flying half an hour before sunset to at least half an hour beyond. My last time I flew approaching a sunset, a Cooper attacked the birds as they were about to land after the sunset. It kept the birds flying into the dark and all what I could see is white spicks moving in different directions. With the aide of a floodlight, birds were finally trapped and fed. Over the course of late flying, I had taken few valuable pictures and placed them on the Swifts web site. Separate sexes: Once sexes are differentiated birds will tend to mate and fly in different direction without a pattern. 

Removing hens immediately will keep the flying spirit of a kit young for a long time. A good young kit travels as a unit and away from the loft for various periods. I have males that are still flying strong at age of seven. A strong flying kit tend to send a strong message for Hawks. Traps: Hawk traps are legal in many states but restrictions imposed in others. You should check with your local wild life department before using them. The idea is to trap and relocate a problem predator. Traps require live bait, preferably a white pigeon. I always wonder if a decoy pigeon could be used? Despite these restrictions, I have been able to fly on the average of four days of the week during the flying season and that's adequate to give decent performance. Summary: Several ways should be implemented to lessen the incidence of attacks by flying predators. The most undisputed deterrence is the ability of birds to fly well. Good management insures production of such birds.