Sparrowhawk was fastened to bottle by cable tie (Image: SSPCA)
Shocking images of the bird of prey with its leg bloodied by the black plastic fastener biting into its flesh have been released by wildlife welfare campaigners as they investigate whether this was an incredible accident or a callous act of cruelty. Sparrowhawks are suffering significant decline across Britain only a few decades after they recovered from a long campaign of persecution by landowners and gamekeepers. As one of the countryside’s most accomplished hunters, they continue to be vilified for killing small songbirds, making them a soft target for wildlife criminals.
Images released today show how the black cable tie was fastened tight around the young female sparrowhawk’s right leg, just above its razor-sharp talons, and then attached to an empty plastic bottle. She was found earlier this month tethered in a field near Carnoustie, the small Angus town renowned for its famous golf links.
Although captive birds of prey handlers use leg straps known as “jesses” to keep hold of their hawks on protective gloves, investigators do not believe this is the work of a falconer.
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The Scottish Society for the Prevention today appealed for public help to solve the mystery of how the plastic tie had first gripped the hawk's leg and had then become attached to the bottle so that the bird could not take flight.
SSPCA animal rescue officer Dionne Boyack explained how the restrained bird had been found by a concerned member of the public.
Female sparrow hawk rescued by SSPCA (Image: SSPCA)
She said: “It was found to be tethered in an unusual way, so we don’t suspect this to be a falconer.
"The bird was restrained with cable ties and attached to a bottle which was hindering its ability to fly.
“It is possible the bird got caught up in this unfortunate way by accident. After assessing the sparrowhawk for injury and being satisfied that she had none, I freed her and she flew away.”
All raptors are protected in the UK, with unlimited fines and up to six months’ imprisonment for killing or injuring a bird.
Hawk with bloodied leg fastened to bottle (Image: SSPCA)
Sadly, sparrowhawks are a species that has come back from the brink only to be facing an uncertain future once more.
After being heavily hunted by trophy collectors and gamekeepers in Victorian times, the hawk, known as an accipiter, made a spectacular recovery during the 1970s and 1980s, returning to many of its former haunts across the Midlands and east of England.
Yet it is now witnessing a new era of decline, with no known driving force, although the loss of many small species of songbird, its favourite food source, is a possible contributing factor.
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British Trust for Ornithology spokesman Paul Stancliffe explained: “The sparrowhawk is at the top of the food chain and their presence is a good indicator of how the food they prey on is doing.
Sparrowhawks are one of Britain's most striking birds (Image: Jill Pakenham/BTO)
"If there is plenty of food, sparrowhawks will respond accordingly.
“The fact that the breeding Sparrowhawk population has declined by 23 percent during the last 25 years should ring alarm bells.
"It might be an indicator that there is trouble in our countryside.”
Anyone with information about the tethered sparrowhawk is asked to contact the SSPCA’s confidential animal helpline on 03000 999 999.