Sky pirates

My son has developed a very healthy obsession with raptors and falconry. His latest ‘favourite bird’ is the Black Sparrowhawk. He draws Black Sparrowhawks all the time… sitting on nests, dive-bombing doves, flying about with cheeky comments/speech bubbles about what they see below… and being held high on the glove of a burly falconer (himself as a grown-up, no doubt).

We are always on the lookout for raptors as we drive around Noordhoek and often he will be the first to yell ‘RAPTOR!’ and I will have to screech to a halt as we both strain to look skywards to ID the unmistakable speck in the sky.

So it was disquieting to read an article in the latest Africa Birds and Birding magazine about the increase in ‘piracy’ displayed by crows and the effect that this could potentially have on raptors.

Over the years I have noticed an alarming increase in the pied crow population in Noordhoek. The other day there was an almost apocalyptic profusion of them – swarming and cawing in the grey/yellow sky above.

The authors of this article (friends of mine who live locally) speak of incidents of direct predation by crows from raptor nests (a Black-shouldered Kite nestling). It is not only the smaller raptors coming under attack from these Pirates of the Sky….other prey-carrying raptors such as Black Harriers, Marsh Harriers and Fish Eagles are seen getting bombarded by these opportunistic monsters.

Further north in Tanzania, one researcher has observed a sharp increase in the crow population and has noted how Verreux’s Eagle Owls have stopped breeding (in one particular area) as a result of the harassment dished out by crows. In Kenya, a raptor specialist watched a month-old Martial Eagle nestling getting its eyes poked out by – could it be a coven (?) – of pied crows. On our doorstep, our highly threatened vultures in the Drakensburg are battling with these aerial terrorists – particularly around the ‘vulture restaurants’.

I am watching this one play out with great interest – could this be yet another subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) shift upon the chess board of biodiversity? Could this be climate change related? Or is it just because we continue to breed ourselves silly and our sprawling suburban (and highly compromised) habitats are just attracting more and more of these birds who are game for all the easy pickings we provide? Who knows?

I did this sketch many many years back. It is of a Long-crested Eagle. As with so many wild creatures….it’s all in the eyes.

3 thoughts on “Sky pirates

  1. This reminds me of a trip to Pakistan where the only birds that we saw were crows and kites. Even when walking in the Himalaya we saw no raptors, no small birds. Crows and kites dominated the city skies. We here in South Africa have so much to cherish and conserve. Keep speaking out……….and keep drawing!

  2. The collective noun is, believe it or not, a “murder of crows.” Chillingly relevant! What Tigger says is abslutely true for Lagos too (I’m here on contract). Crows, kites and the occasional pigeon or egret that looks in bad need of a scrub. I so miss my garden in Jozi, alive with birds – and let’s not even start on how much I miss the bush…

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