Sunday, December 5

Guess who’s coming to dinner? Roadkill Placed On ‘Sky Boards’ To Attract Rare Birds Of Prey | Birds

When a griffon vulture last year graced the UK with its presence, astonished bird watchers from across the country flocked to the Derbyshire moors in hopes of catching a glimpse.

Now conservationists hope to make sightings of these magnificent birds more frequent by adding raw nature back to the field.

No one wants to see dead cattle lying in the field, covered in flies, while on a scenic drive through the countryside. And after the horrors of mad cow disease, it is strictly forbidden to leave dead farm animals outside; must be carried and disposed of safely, usually burned.

However, this has meant that the countryside is largely devoid of carrion for predatory birds like eagles and vultures to feed on, leaving them to peck at negligible portions of roadkill, putting their lives at risk on busy roads in the process.

One solution of some bird lovers is to build a “table of heaven”, on which they put carrion – foxes and dead deer – and leave it to be fed by corvids and raptors. Larvae and worms that feed on the decaying body also provide food for smaller birds.

Derek Gow, who runs a rebuilding farm in Devon, built his ten-foot-tall table when he spotted a white-tailed eagle lurking in the nearby moorlands.

Derek Gow places dead cattle on his 'heaven table'
Derek Gow places dead cattle on his ‘sky table’ for predatory birds to feed on on his farm in Devon. Photograph: Jim Wileman / The Observer

He said the field has been “tidy,” not dead enough for scavengers and predators to feed, and that he often throws run-over animals onto the table. “All livestock that die are supposed to be brought in and cremated, which leaves the birds foraging on roads and highways from crushed rats,” he said. “When the white-tailed eagles come inland, they have nothing to eat except the run over. We wanted to provide them with a large amount of death to feed on.

He says that this summer the white-tailed eagles have flown over the table twice and hopes that this will soon lead to them coming to feed.

“Eagles follow crows to see where to eat,” he said. “We have had crows, magpies, scavengers, vultures, red kites. Woodpeckers have also used the carcasses, and the starlings have fed on the larvae and worms there as the carcasses decompose. It offers a wide variety of foods. “

Gow, a cattle and sheep farmer, cannot yet put dead cattle on his table, but has asked to change this rule.

“We have a healthy field, where most of the animals that roam the fields are destined for death, but those deaths will all be in slaughterhouses and slaughterhouses,” he said. “We take everything off the ground and give absolutely nothing back. In doing so, we deny the creatures that feed on death. “

Gow has inspired others to do the same, including financier and conservationist Ben Goldsmith, who is a Defra board member and brother of environment minister Lord Goldsmith.

After seeing Gow’s sky table on Twitter, Goldsmith made his on his land in Bruton, Somerset. He said: “One of the white-tailed eagles that has been released on the Isle of Wight has been hanging out at Longleat, right at the end of my path, so I hope to tempt him.

“I made a really simple structure about 8 feet tall and we threw a run over deer in there,” he said. “The corpses are eaten in three days, so something goes there. I think they are vultures, but there has been a red kite circling. ”

Goldsmith hopes that, with more death to rot in the field, the vultures may be tempted.

“We should ask for some kind of derogation that allows farmers to leave some downed animal for wildlife. Golden eagles are recovering in Britain and they need something to eat. We had a griffon vulture here; they might as well be here again. “

Other European countries, including Spain, have legal exemptions for leaving dead animals for vultures after bird experts warned they didn’t have enough to eat.

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