Historically shooting of birds of all kinds, including raptors was prevalent across the islands. However this practice has been changing in recent years, with shooting of wild birds declining.
We could not address the core issue of raptor-livestock conflicts without the participation and support of landowners, thus one pillar of the project was landowner perceptions of the issue. We interviewed the owners of ten farms, covering many of the different environments found in the Falkland Islands. We found that opinion regarding the impact of raptors varied significantly, partly due to the presence of different species, and partly due to the different practices of each farm. All of the individuals we spoke with were keen to see changes in the management of raptors to alleviate the problem, while having the least detrimental impact upon wildlife.
Another information gap was to do with capture, marking and tracking of individuals of each species. We could not hope to collect useful information without first knowing that we were able to safely and humanely capture the birds and follow their movements. We tested four methods of capturing birds; one of the best for the Striated Caracara (Phalcoboenus australis) was a simple hand operated string snare, showing that complicated and/or expensive is not necessarily best. We went on to fit leg bands to both Striated Caracara (or Johnny Rook) and Southern Caracara (Caracara plancus). We also attached GPS logging devices to a small number of birds, using a 'backpack'. Neither of these tags had any lasting impact, and in as little as an hour from the tags being fitted birds were seen to behave and socialise normally. We also fitted Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) and Southern Caracara with patagial (wing) tags which was similarly successful.
In addition to tracking individual birds, we spent time observing lambing flocks on West Falkland, looking out for any interactions between birds of prey and lambing ewes or young lambs. While we did see birds feeding upon afterbirth and some older carcasses we did not see any actual predation at that time. However, this does not mean that predation does not occur; we simply didn't observe any in over 60 hours of field observations.
Given the successes of the past 6 months, and the sensitivity of this issue among the conservation and agriculture communities, we are hopeful that our work can be extended and expanded upon in the coming year. We are currently seeking to undertake a more comprehensive survey of farmers and spend more time observing flocks for interactions.
Falklands Conservation would like to thank everyone involved. This project was funded by the National Birds of Prey Trust and the Darwin Initiative Challenge Fund for Overseas Territories, with support from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
Ian Campbell of the Falkland Islands Government Department of Agriculture comments on the project:
Much of the famous wildlife on the Falkland Islands occurs on farm land. This interaction is mostly beneficial, the sea birds and mammals bring in the valuable plant nutrients that are not only lacking here but are also being harvested in produce. Occasionally it goes wrong - there are undoubtedly cases of predation by birds of prey - but the long term aim of the raptor project is to quantify this and to put this into perspective as well as develop preventative management systems.
Attacks on sheep are often birds simply cleaning up carrion but they look bad. As such there is no commercial loss and even a gain in fly control and nutrient recycling. Unfortunately a lambing ewe or a new born lamb is temporarily compromised and attacks on these animals do represent a true commercial loss. In the middle are the sick or dying animals that get attacked, often a brutal sight but again not the primary problem.
Our view at the Department of Agriculture is that strong healthy and well fed animals are more resilient and less likely to be taken on by a predator, however we also accept some rogue birds are a primary problem and we sit on the committee that issues destruction permits. The bottom line though is that the more views we seek from the farmers who work with this, and the better the understanding overall, the better we will be able to manage the system.