COUN­TRY MAT­TERS

Mys­tery death of a young bird of prey Joe Kennedy

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Viewpoints -

THERE was a look of naive ac­cep­tance in the eyes of a crouched bird on an iPhone im­age sent to me last week. This was of a young buz­zard (Bu­teo bu­teo) found in a north Le­in­ster field by an agri­cul­ture pro­fes­sional go­ing about his job. It had been wing-shot and was in a poor state.

The phone im­age came from a reg­u­lar cor­re­spon­dent — PG, of Co Louth — a per­son who cares about the coun­try­side and the crea­tures that in­habit it. He took the young buz­zard to his house to ex­am­ine the dam­age. The bird was weak and died be­fore it could be taken to a vet. It may have been ly­ing in the field for a cou­ple of days.

The ques­tion is who would have shot at an im­ma­ture bird (the species has been in­creas­ing in num­bers in the Boyne Val­ley area) and left it ly­ing for dead?

Buz­zards may be listed as birds of prey but they cause no dis­tress to any crea­tures ex­cept to small mam­mals such as rats and voles, which they eat, and have spot­ted from over­head. Es­sen­tially they feed on car­rion.

The US No­bel Lau­re­ate Wil­liam Faulkner had con­sid­er­able ad­mi­ra­tion for buz­zards, a bird not en­vied or hated by any­one, he said.

He told an in­ter­viewer in the Paris Re­view in the 1950s: “You know that if I were rein­car­nated I’d want to come back as a buz­zard. Noth­ing hates him or en­vies him or wants him or needs him. He is never both­ered or in dan­ger and he can eat any­thing.”

As far as I am aware, Faulkner never visited here though he en­joyed Irish mu­sic and folk songs, per­haps in­dica­tive of Ul­ster an­ces­try. One won­ders what he would have thought of buz­zards be­ing shot in Ire­land.

Then, this in­ci­dent could have been a mat­ter of iden­tity; the shooter could have mis­taken it for a car­rion crow.

Mem­bers of gun clubs are sen­si­tive about pheas­ant wel­fare. Some are oc­ca­sion­ally blamed for shoot­ing at any­thing over­head while they are out and about check­ing their ‘ter­ri­tory’.

I was once, many years ago, a mem­ber of a gun club. As I kept some poul­try I could also have pheas­ant eggs hatch out un­der broody ban­tam ‘mothers’. The mem­ber­ship was gen­er­ally colour­ful, to say the least. At times there ap­peared to be con­sid­er­able gaps in bird­lore knowl­edge.

I re­call the club sec­re­tary once hav­ing to pa­tiently ex­plain why hen birds were not shot — they laid eggs which hatched into chicks which even­tu­ally be­came adult pheas­ants adding to the club’s stock!

There is a per­cep­tion that buz­zards take young pheas­ants, my cor­re­spon­dent pointed out. Not so. As he frus­trat­ingly asked: “Why can’t some peo­ple in this coun­try leave birds of prey alone?”

“There’s a dead bird in your chim­ney,” says a char­ac­ter in John McGa­h­ern’s play for ra­dio, Sin­clair (not about bird shoot­ing but rather thiev­ing wood with a chain­saw).

There are dead birds in the col­lec­tive mem­ory chim­neys of some coun­try folk when it comes to blast­ing feath­ered lives out of the skies. The poor dead ado­les­cent buz­zard didn’t bother any per­son or crea­ture and be­came an un­lucky pot-shot for a bored hu­man with a shot­gun walk­ing through a field.

DON’T SHOOT: Bu­teo bu­teo

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