Drought drives raptors into urban areas

Wedge-tailed Eagle Image: Dan Weller

A surprising number of Wedge-tailed Eagles, Powerful Owls, Black Kites and other birds of prey (known as raptors), have been recorded in our urban spaces by participants in BirdLife Australia’s Aussie Backyard Bird Count over the past four years. BirdLife Australia is anticipating a rise in reports of raptors in this year’s Aussie Bird Count—which will run from 22-28 October during National Bird Week—due to the impact of the drought driving birds from the parched countryside into our cities and towns.

BirdLife Australia is encouraging all Australians to “look up” when they are doing their bird counts because you never know what you might see. Over the past four years 27 out of Australia’s 34 raptor species have been spotted in capital cities.

“We expect it to be a really interesting year for bird watchers in urban areas with the drought driving raptors and other inland birds into our cities and towns in search of food,”  BirdLife Australia’s Chief Bird Nerd Sean Dooley said. “We have already had reports of higher than usual numbers of raptors such as Barn Owls and Black-shouldered Kites moving towards the coast this winter. It will be fascinating to see how much of a drought refuge our urban areas will become for birds that can no longer successfully hunt out in the countryside due to the ravages the drought has inflicted on their prey. This year it’s more important than ever for people to look up into the sky and see what unusual birds are making homes in the city”.

Data collected by citizen scientists for BirdLife Australia’s State of Our Birds Report shows that nearly all our raptor species are on the decline in rural areas across most of Australia with some of our formerly most common species such as the Southern Boobook Owl and the Brown Goshawk showing a disturbing drop in numbers.

“On the one hand our urban areas can provide a refuge for hungry raptors as they are better watered and have a higher number of the birds’ prey such as rodents and pigeons, but on the other hand city life can be far more dangerous as they face the threats of vehicle strike, collisions with buildings, overhead powerlines and poisoning from pesticides,” Mr Dooley said.

Nature lovers who look to the skies should look out for raptors in urban areas during National Bird Week from 22-28 October and record the birds they see in their backyards and favourite outdoor spaces.

In order to count more than 2 million birds in seven days, BirdLife Australia is calling on all Australians to join the count during National Bird Week and to encourage their friends and family to join in and discover the birds in their backyards too.


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