Wildlife wardens from the RSPB are investigating what one conservationist has described as “an unusual cluster” of two dead and one injured little egrets from the River Wandle and Beddington Farmlands in the past week.
The birds do not appear to have been attacked by predators, but have wounds consistent with being hit by pellets from air guns or catapults.
The little egret is a small white heron with attractive white plumes on crest, back and chest, and is a relatively recent sight on the rivers and wetlands of southern England, having started arriving here in the past 40 years from northern France, both as a breeding species and as a winter visitor.
Now some birds in south London appear to have become targets, with reports of two youths in Beddington Park seen using a catapult, and another report from a witness of a man walking in the river, retrieving one of the egrets and then hiding the body (which was recovered by the witness).
Local conservationist Peter Alfrey has called in the RSPB. He told Inside Croydon yesterday, “I examined one of the dead birds today – it had a broken leg, a wound on the neck and the breast. All the wounds appear to be consistent with catapult wounds, but I will need to check with RSPB Investigations.
“There is still one egret on the same stretch of the Wandle, though its days may be numbered if what we suspect are these attacks continue.”
The main picture, provided by Alfrey, is of an egret flying at Beddington Farmlands last week; one of its legs appears to be broken. “The bird I examined today also had a broken leg, so it is possible the bird I photographed at the Farmlands last week is the dead one we have found,” he said.
“A predator attack normally shows a lot more signs of struggle with lots of missing feathers, more extensive wounds and obvious signs where the predator has eaten it too. The bird I examined was more or less in pristine plumage.
“The wounds were localised on the neck and breast and in my opinion look consistent with a catapult wound.
“The suspicious activity and witness statements also support that.”
Anyone who may have witnessed suspicious activity, or the use of catapults or air guns in an inappropriate manner, are encouraged to contact Alfrey by email initially, at email@example.com.
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