RSPCA: “Preyed upon”: Domestic birds of prey were found struggling to survive

A wildlife centre is caring for nine birds of prey which were bred and raised as pets and then thought to have been dumped.

Three barn owls, two Harris hawks, two buzzards, a lanner falcon and an eagle owl were taken to RSPCA’s Stapeley Grange in Nantwich, Cheshire for help after being found in an injured, sick or lethargic condition.

They were all bred as domestic pets and must have been either abandoned by their owners or escaped. This means they cannot be released back into the wild, Most were likely to have died if they had not been rescued.

The birds have very specialist needs which makes finding suitable new homes very difficult.

Lee Stewart, centre manager, said: “All the birds were struggling to survive.

“One of the buzzards had lost all balance and kept falling on its face, one of the barn owls had flown straight into a car and the eagle owl was discovered in the middle of a path with its wing hanging down.

“People may dump these birds when they realise they can’t look after them. For some it may be a consequence of current financial times as these birds can cost a lot to keep, especially when you consider veterinary bills. For others personal circumstances may have changed, such as having children or moving house.

“Whatever the reason – they are just let go and can be very difficult to rehome afterwards as they need very specialist care.

“We would always recommend that anyone who owned a bird of prey get them ringed so that should they escape, they can be traced.”

The RSPCA is warning owners to do their research before taking on these type of birds as pets, as otherwise animals may end up abandoned after people realise their care is more than they can manage.

Animals which have been bred in captivity can struggle to adapt if they suddenly find themselves having to fend for themselves in the wild.

Birds of prey can have a large wing span and flying is a fundamental natural behaviour so aviaries should be built with enough space for the bird in its adult size to fly. They also need to be given free flying time out of the enclosure, fed suitable food and taken to a specialist avian vet.

Legally, they can only be kept as pets if they are captive-bred as under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to take any wild bird and put it into captivity. Some birds of prey also need to be registered if kept in captivity.

Sophie Adwick, Exotics and Trade officer for the RSPCA, said: “It is vital that anyone taking on an animal thinks very carefully about whether they will be able to care for properly for all of its life.

“Too many people buy on a whim without really doing any research into what the animal or bird eats, how big it will grow, and how difficult it might be to keep it in a home.

“This can lead to a raft of welfare problems as well as abandonments.”

Notes to editors

Images and interviews available via the press office on 0300 123 0244.

Birds of prey species which need to be registered are listed on the Annexes of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna) may require further paperwork.

Background case studies:

— Eagle owl – found in the middle of a bridleway near Manchester Airport in Cheshire on 15/10/11. It was incredibly weak and barely had the energy to hop along. It was found to be a domestic animal, which could not find food or fend for itself. It was suspected that the animal, not a native breed to the UK, had been dumped and would have died had not been rescued and taken to Stapeley

— Harris hawk – a member of the public came upon this bird in their garden in Walsall on 08/12/2011. It was uninjured but disorientated and distressed, so taken to Birmingham Animal Hospital to be checked out before being taken on to Stapeley for care. It was wearing ‘jesses’ (leather straps for a handler to keep control of the bird) but not ringed so it is suspected that the ring may have been removed and the bird abandoned.

— Harris hawk – found in Wolverhampton on 11/12/2011 in a member of the public’s garden. Was underweight and in a weak state so was taken to Stapeley for some care and found to be a domestic bird. It is unknown whether the bird was abandoned or escaped.

— Barn owl – found on a private garden gate post in Hollywell, Clywd on 12/11/11. The domestic animal was very weak and so taken to Stapeley for recuperation. It is not know whether it escaped or was dumped.

— Barn owl – flew into a member of the public’s car in Staleybridge Cheshire on 7/01/12. Was uninjured but in very weak and lethargic condition. Dragging one leg and doesn’t seem to be able to fly very well. Taken by member of the public to Stapeley Grange. It is unknown whether the animal was dumped or escaped.

— Barn owl – found by a dog walker in woods near his home in Buckley, Clywd on 16/01/12. It was on the ground, and seemed to be struggling to fly. Inspector discovered there was a mark where a ring had been and removed. It is thought the owl had probably been dumped.

— Buzzard – found in Nottingham on 09/11/11. Is part of an ongoing legal case, so no further details can be discussed.

— Buzzard – found in woods in Hollywell, Clywd on 02/01/12. It was on the ground, and although uninjured and very weak and lethargic, and kept losing its balance and falling flat on its face. It was found to be a domestic bird, and again thought to probably have been abandoned.

— Lanner falcon – found in a garden in Congleton, Cheshire on 21/01/12 in a very weak state. Did not have injuries but was unable to fly. Was wearing leather ‘jesses’ straps which showed it was a domestic bird, but had not been ringed. It is unknown whether it had been dumped or escaped.


RSPCA, Wilberforce Way, Southwater, Horsham, West Sussex RH13 9RS 

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