Falcons killed with pesticide and head taken as ‘trophy’

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POLICE have today revealed they are hunting criminals who used a banned industrial grade poison to kill two peregrine falcons.

The birds of prey were found dead at a quarry in the West Lothian town of Kirknewton after being subject to the lethal pesticide aldicarb.

Specialist wildlife investigators believe the killings were clearly deliberate and one of the peregrine’s heads had been severed to be kept as a “trophy”.

The investigation only came to light when a government report into pesticide deaths was published yesterday and police insisted they will keep the case open until someone is caught.

The incident last year was among the worst detailed in the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture report, which also listed a series of incidents in Bathgate last October where cats were poisoned with antifreeze.

Police have described the incredible lengths to which the culprits would have to go to poison a peregrine.

PC Ruaraidh Hamilton, wildlife crime co-ordinator for Lothian and Borders Police, told the Evening News: “Peregrines are a species that feed only on other birds, so it’s very tricky and unusual to find they have been poisoned. They don’t eat carrion or animals on the ground. Someone would have to have put poison on a bird that they know peregrines hunt and then wait for them to make contact with that bird for this pesticide to be passed on.

“It takes a lot of specialist knowledge to poison a bird that hunts in the sky.”

PC Hamilton said it was possible the culprits were collectors of pigeons who have taken issue with the peregrines, who are feared hunters.

The dead peregrines were found in April and May last year and so far police have not identified any suspects.

PC Hamilton said that the kind of poison used is so strong, it could easily be passed between animals, and could potentially affect humans if they came into contact with it.

He added: “This is a pair of birds that could have raised three to four young a year. We will not close this case until someone is caught and we need the public’s help in reporting any more incidents of this nature.”

Bob Elliot, head of investigations for RSPB Scotland, said every year the conservation body was seeing peregrines killed in attacks.

He said: “This is a pattern I’m afraid to say we’re seeing every year now, not just poisoned but shot peregrines as well.

“There are various motivations to doing something like this. We’ve had incidents before with people interested in pigeon racing, being convicted of egg theft for collections, stealing chicks that would be laundered abroad.

“Peregrines are of great importance and are a litmus test for many problems with the environment, which become apparent by examining their behaviour.

“They are a fabulous species.”

rory.reynolds@edinburghnews.com