Birds of prey
Birds of prey, also known as raptors, are a group of bird that hunt and feed on animals like rabbits, rodents, fish, lizards and other birds. These birds are characterised by a keen vision that allows them to detect and catch prey with their sharp talons and hooked beaks, often during flight. Hawks, owls, eagles, vultures and falcons are all types of birds of prey. As apex predators, birds of prey play an important ecological role in maintaining the environmental health of their natural habitat by removing old, sick and weak animals from prey populations, and keeping prey species and mesopredator populations under control. They are also indicator species, which means that monitoring their population changes gives us insight into environmental threats such as climate change, habitat loss and wildlife trade.
Photo: IFAW BRRC rehabilitator released a Common Kestrel to the wild.
The biggest threat to birds of prey is man-made. Environmental pollution, rapid urbanisation, increased use of pesticides and rodenticides, and the wildlife trade have destroyed birds of preys’ natural habitats and impacted populations in a number of ways. Deforestation, climate change and human population growth has led to a decrease in sufficient prey in the wild and loss of these birds’ safe nesting and breeding sites. Human conflict and persecution have also affected birds of prey. They are often seen as a threat or nuisance to communities and are shot or poisoned. Some birds of prey are caught and kept in captivity as exotic pets and for falconry, both legally and illegally. It is impossible to fully replicate wild conditions in captivity, so birds often suffer physically and psychologically. This can lead to birds exhibiting abnormal and sometimes self-harming behaviours. Raptors that have spent long periods in captivity may become too habituated to humans or too physically compromised to survive in the wild.
Beijing is home to a key migratory corridor for many raptor species, and although China’s Wildlife Protection Law categorises all raptors as Class I and II protected animals (making them strictly prohibited from hunting, trafficking and trading) birds in this region are still subject to the threat of the illegal wildlife trade, human-wildlife conflict, loss of habitat, pesticide and rodenticide ingestion, and malnutrition.
So in 2001, IFAW co-founded the Beijing Raptor Rescue Center (IFAW BRRC) with Beijing Normal University (BNU) and endorsed by the Wildlife Protection Station of the Beijing Forestry Bureau. IFAW BRRC rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild sick and injured birds of prey, as well as those confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade. It is the only designated raptor rescue centre in the Beijing Municipality and it is committed to improving the standards of care for rescued birds of prey in China.
Birds of prey that are admitted to IFAW BRRC routinely suffer from an array of injuries, from fatigue due to inadequate prey in the wild, to gunshot wounds. However, they are in safe hands. IFAW BRRC is a dedicated bird of prey hospital staffed by professional raptor rehabilitators and veterinarians. In the past 20 years, our rehabilitators have rescued over 5,300 birds of prey from all over Beijing.
Once the raptors have received treatment for their physical, behavioural and psychological needs, they are tested to ensure their flying competency has been fully restored and they still retain a natural instinct against humans. Once these boxes are ticked, the bird is released back to the sky, at a time and place carefully selected to optimise the released bird’s chance of survival in the wild. More than 53% of the birds of prey rescued by BRRC have returned to the sky.
IFAW BRRC continues to monitor the raptors as part of a post-release monitoring program (PRM) to ensure the wellbeing of the bird and inform data-driven adjustments to the rehabilitation and treatment process.
During the pandemic, our work didn’t stop. Faced with a multitude of challenges, from sourcing food and medical supplies to keeping staff safe, the IFAW BRRC team sprang into action to ensure the raptors in our care were looked after and could return to the sky as soon as they are able. Read about our story here.
How can you help birds of prey?
IFAW is working to provide the public with information and materials to learn more about the biology, ecology and conservation of these birds of prey. We believe that through education we can help drive awareness about the plight of raptors and save even more lives. To support IFAW and the work we do around the world, please consider donating.