Monday, June 29, 2009

Chop down this lampost to save ducklings from predators?

The above picture shows two hoodie crows in the harbour area making use of mankind's facilty and no doubt eyeing up the latest ducklings to head into the danger zone. It was sent to the Gurn by someone who has been reading Joe's blog. Should all the lampposts be taken down to protect the ducklings? It is a ridiculous situation but it is the very same logic that swan blogger Joe Telfer is using when he calls for the Spruce trees along the lower riverside walk to be felled. Joe states in his latest post:
'The Creek between the merryton and bailey bridges is now a valley of death for young ducklings. Hoodie Crows have established a nest in the spruce trees directly opposite the Swans island and have systematically targeted all ducklings in this area. The two herons have taken many chicks, so too the black back and herring gulls.'
He goes on to say:
'When i first heard about the plan to cut down the spruce trees on the lower river, i was vehemently against it. However my gut reaction has now changed in favour of the idea.
It would deprive the hoodie crows nesting ability on this stretch of the river, in addition it would open up the river view to passers by, which in turn would keep the herons on the move at the island hotspot. Planting deciduous species, and various bushes and shrubs, like gorse, broom , honeysuckle for fragrance and colour etc, would be much more attractive and beneficial to other bird species.'
The problem is Joe, that we are not quite talking about pure nature anymore in this area, what we in fact have now is something more akin to a farmyard/zoo where a hybrid race of mallards/silver appleyards have become dependant on human feeding. The humans feed the birds, the birds like the idea and nest in the area, when the young are born their mothers take them in search of the humans and the predators make the most of this situation. If it is a valley of death then it is mankind that draws these creatures to their doom with the offer of a handful of breadcrumbs. Of course it gives people great pleasure to feed the ducks and the swans and there's nothing wrong with that but it isn't quite the simple communion with nature that it first appears.
Why should healthy trees have to die to satisfy human sentimentality? These trees are on their way to becoming landmarks and a closer inspection will reveal native species in their midst. The Gurnmeister knows this, having planted one or two there quite a few years ago. Plant honeysuckle Joe? The perfume of that species on that side of the river has been almost overpowering in recent days and there's no shortage of broom and gorse. The Spruce trees have amenity value and people enjoy them very much. I remember quite well in the days of Chrissie Ellen on the Nairn District Council where there was a debate about their future and that of other trees along the riverside. There were calls even then to keep them as folk had an eye to their future potential on the Nairn Skyline. Yes some will have to be felled in the future to allow the rest the proper space to grow but you want to make the river more open to scare away the herons? Don't people have the right to continue seeing the herons going about their business on this stretch of the river, even if that does mean they take the odd duckling snack?
Joe also suggests:
'Having a tree as a landmark would be better placed away from the riverbank, and should also be a native species.'
That would mean felling existing ones and planting new trees. What chance would they have against vandalism. A recent Nairnshire report highlighted the destruction of newly planted trees in the suburbs.
Joe believes that the hoodies got one of the cygnets, the Gurn understands that the cygnet was in fact abandoned by its parents and thus sadly is the way. Now the biggest killers of cygnets on the river Nairn are Swans. Remember a couple of years ago when the residents brought back their young only to have them killed by another pair that had moved in and fortified themselves on breadcrumbs.
Joe also adds in his blog:
'The Balance between predators and prey has now tipped firmly in favour of the predators.'
Well a few years ago a Mallard on the River Nairn was a rare site, now there are plenty of them and they seem to be quite happy and willing to stay, there is no immediate danger to the numbers even if most of this year's crop have been snacked up. Others will return in the autumn from further up the river and elsewhere.
The Gurn would argue that it is in fact the balance of sentimentality has now tipped firmly in the wrong direction. It is time for full public debate about the river ecology both in and out of the water. The Spruce are just fine at the moment, they looked magnificent in the prolonged frost we had in the winter. If anyone wants to make work for themselves then go and tackle the Japanese knotweed and Himalyan Balsam, it's out of control just the other side of the sewerage bridge and has already established a foothold near the spruces, you'll see it next to two bonny giant hogweed plants that are now flowering.
It is also worth noting that the Gurn has been informed by Highland Council that there are no plans to fell the trees, it had however been discussed at some informal level between a member of the public and one of the council's employee's. The Gurn calls for all voices to be heard - the riverside environment belongs to us all and each voice should have the same influence.
Please note previous breadcrumb brigade discussions have been quite heated on the Gurn so if you wish to make a contribution you are quite welcome but please keep it civilised otherwise, as has happened on similar articles in the past comments will be turned off on this thread


Maggot Walker said...

Three cheers for common sense.Let's all now just enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Bad luck to the ducks, but it seems to be a case of nature running its course. Lets not rip up the riverside to encourage ducks at the expense of all other wildlife!

The crows, the gulls, the herons, all have chicks, too!

Anonymous said...

Sadly Joe seems to have created his very own river/harbour wildlife policy that he expects others to adopt.
Predators are a part of nature and removing trees (Please no) does not take away the issue, namely nature at work.

A quick surf of the web will tell you that feeding the likes of ducks is simply not right, for example look at:
I’ve been unable to find any information supporting the feeding of ducks and swans with white bread (This I have seen Joe doing many times).
Sad as it may be, a year with no new ducklings might be good for the local duck population as there are just far too many of them dependant on people feeding them.
We’ve tried to tackle the seagull population with no feeding signs, how about extending it to ‘Please do not feed the wild birds’?
I just wish we had truly wild water birds instead of the now tame ducks and swans.

I’m sure Joe means well but it's getting to the stage where he needs to build a zoo, for it’s a very unnatural environment that he wishes to create for our feathered friends.

Anonymous said...

Joe, your swan island is a success story and a credit to you but please leave the trees alone! Leave others to have their pleasures too.

jayteescot1 said...

I knew when i switched on the computer tonight that the gurn would be on my case with the usual stream of anonymous pals comments.
As always the gurn puts it's own slant on everything to suit it's own agenda ie, sentimentality about trees,alotments,anti himalayan balsam etc, etc.
You also misrepresent what i said on my blog,I did not call for the felling of the spruce trees along the lower river. However I would not now oppose such action. I would suggest people read my blog themselves and draw their own conclusions.

Can i say at this point i rather like the himalayan balsam, it adds colour,flowers for ages, and the bees love it!
My arguments are sound regarding the hoodie crows nesting in the spruce trees adjacent to the creek. A couple of years ago the trees were not tall enough to suit the hoodies, now they are and this problem will only get worse.
I'm sure all river walkers are aware of the spruce and firs etc at whinnieknowe, and the amount of crows and rooks nesting there. Do we want the same along the lower river ?
I make no apolgies for trying to boost the number of Swans and ducks on the river, and if you think they are all tame, i would suggest you try and catch one !
As for the herons, they do not like people getting too close, so by opening up the east side of the lower river bank, they wont be on hand quite so much to take the ducklings perhaps.
Can i remind your readers that hoodies and gulls take all kinds of small birds, not just ducklings.

I put the information on my blog regarding the ducks situation because i have been asked umpteen times the same question, "where are all the ducklings this year?"

Stay tuned more to follow !

Nairn said...

Perhaps the nesting crows do regard the river and it’s contents as a food plate next to their nests, and maybe the ducklings are easy pickings, but like many other birds the hoodies can fly so removing their current nesting site is not necessarily going to stop them returning to the river to feed
Truly wild ducks tend to hide their young and not take them out of the nest into very exposed areas, but in Nairn we have the classic behaviour of ducks that are used to humans through feeding, and have chosen to nest next to an easy food source (Bread) putting their young at high risk as we have seen this year.
I’ve never seen Joe address the feeding issue? (Apologies if you have Joe). What has been created is a very false environment for the ducks and swans, and by the very nature of what they are being fed (Bread) a very poor diet that is bad for them.
People feed the birds for many reasons, the most simplistic being that it brings the birds close to them. We all enjoy observing the young ducklings and signets but the great majority of true ornithologists observe birds from a distance and never try to tame birds with constant feeding.
I would suggest that bread is the problem in the food chain in the river not trees, we are encouraging wild birds to congregate in a small area and to trust us.
I’m not wishing to demonise Joe, for I know he is very passionate about ducks and swans, but I would encourage him to start taking a pair of binoculars rather than a bag of bread to the river, and by example we might start to see a more natural spread of wildlife.
Humans are after all predators and encouraging wild birds to trust us will only lead to their demise.

Anonymous said...

Where do you stop? Many of the 'predators' use the running track at the Maggot, do we get rid of it as well? They use the rooftops nearby, do we get rid of this as well?
It's time people removed their rose tinted spectacles and faced up to the fact that nature, whether in an artificially created setting or a natural one, is not nice.
Let's turn the argument round? Maybe the problem is not the many 'predators' but the ducks and swans, get rid of them (and I am not suggesting this in any way, this is merely for arguments sake) and you don't have a problem?
We are also suffering from the problem of what species 'deserve' priority, who decided that ducks and swans should have the sole right to dominate the area?
On top of this, what about the sparrows, blackbirds, robins, finches, etc etc which also use the trees. Just because they are not part of someone's specific 'in crowd' does this mean that they too have to be evicted?

Bigger pitcher said...

Many assumptions seem to be made with lack of ducklings, maybe 'predators' are not the only reason. There seems to be far more male ducks than female around. There might also be a problem with the hybrid ducks (mallard + silver appleyard) becoming sterile?

Ask Jeeves said...

I wish to point out to Mr. Telfer that the rooks and crows at Whinnieknowe, have been nesting there long before he probably knew Nairn ever existed.Can't imagine how they managed without him.

Nairnac said...

do seagulls have any natural predators ?

whatever they are, I advoacate their introduction soonest.

jayteescot1 said...

Whew ! Now i know what those poor ducks felt like, being attacked on all sides by a bunch of predators !

I dont accept some of the arguments put forward regarding the lower river as being an unnatural habitat for the ducks and swans etc. It is self evidently not the case.
It is a river estuary and if you look at every other river estuary in the country they all have wildfowl and many other species of birds.
There are too many points to cover in one reply and this after all was started by the Gurn taking issue with someone's suggestion that the spruce trees should be thinned / removed to open the river views to the public.
This happened to coincide with my report on the fall in duckling numbers this year.
Iright should know that all ducks and swans take their hatched young to the water within 24 hours, they dont hide them away. They head for the nearest water course where the young are able to feed themselves, the mothers main task is to watch out for predators! The reason ducks are so vulnerable to hoodie crows is the fact that hoodies often work in pairs, and the mother duck has only herself to defend them. This means when she is approached from 2 different sides she cannot possibly be in two places at once and thats how she loses the ducklings!
The swans are in a different league because the both look after the cygnets, and they are much larger and more fearsome.
11 of the ducklings lost were in the burn in the golf course, they were stalked daily by the hoodies until they were finally all taken. There are now more predators than is healthy for other species and this situation is likely to get worse unless some action is taken. This does not necessarily mean the removal of the spruce trees.
I do think that they are a contributing factor to the increased hoodie numbers, as well as the demise of many of the ducklings.
From the information i have on the killing of the cygnet, it was in fact attacked by 2 hoodies one was on the cygnets back whilst the other was doing the pecking.
It appears the swan family were on the island and headed off down to the harbour, one of the cygnets was left behind, probably sleeping and did not hear the others leave, when it did make a move close to the island it was pounced on by the hoodies.
Swans are very diligent parents and will not intentionally leave any offspring behind, in fact it is recognised that they will spend as much as 5 days looking for a lost cygnet !
I saw them 2 hours before this incident happened and saw no signs of illness in any of them.

Anonymous said...

I saw the cygnets the night before one of them died. I sincerely believe, as I mentioned to my friend who was with me, that there was something wrong with one. It was leaning against one of the others and when the other moved it toppled over and seemed to have difficulty standing up. I mentioned at the time that it didn’t look too good. It was, therefore, no surprise when I heard it had died. Yes, it had a very unfortunate death, but I suspect it was dying anyway. Nature is cruel but it is survival of the fittest.

Swans may be very diligent parents but they are not sentimental, unlike jayteescot1. Frankly I find his supposition that the cygnet was ‘probably sleeping and did not hear the others leave’ naïve and a little bit silly but, hey, he’ll probably see that as another predatory comment!

So he has empathy with the ducks because he thinks he is being attacked by predators, ‘being attacked on all sides by a bunch of predators’? Sorry, I’ve seen nothing on the Gurn which attacks him, maybe he is very sensitive, but all I can see is other people with different views putting their comments and opinions forward in a reasonable manner.

Anonymous said...

Clearly what Nairn needs is a hooded crow fanatic! This person would dote after the crows, and would feed them cheap out of sell by date burgers or the such like.
This would discourage the hoodies from eating their natural diet (Ducklings etc) and would bring harmony to the riverbank.
The downside might be that the crows became too tame and were at risk themselves from predators, the burger diet might shorten their lives, but the crow fanatic would be happy and that’s what matters in all this.

jayteescot1 said...

Seems like anon and his anon friend can actually tell which cygnet is which having seen one topple over the night before then have us believe that this is the one attacked by the hoodie crow.

I check the Swans 3 times every day and still cant tell which cygnet is which.
I can tell you that cygnets a few weeks old out of water are extremely unsteady and do topple over frequently.
As I said before and for the last time, I saw the cygnets 2 hours before the fatal attack and they all appeared fine, this was also the case earlier that day.
As for the them all sleeping on the island in the long grass, it is perfectly possible for one not to hear the mothers signal to move, which she usually only makes once, and is not particularly loud.
They often move off together because of visual contact and not through audible signals.
After 6 years studying Swans I will leave it to the readers to decide who they would rather believe.

Anonymous said...

Why not have a "Be Kind To Hoodies Week."and they can then all join in
the fun.

Nairnshire Society for the protection of the Hooded Crow said...

JayTee knows everything, case closed! Move along please ladies and gentlemen, no need for further discussion.

Nairnac said...

I saw one of the cygnets in the back bar of the Canteen the other day, he'd had a few when I saw him so I'm not surprised he was stumbling by the time he got back down to the river

Graisg said...

This thread closing at midnight tonight.

Graisg said...

Thanks anon but we'll pass on the 'breadcase' comment.

And thanks to all who contributed, not the first and probably not the last time that breadcrumb brigade issues will be debated on the Gurn.