What happens when a bird of prey is found poisoned? It's a crime scene, with all kinds of forensic evidence ready to be discovered – or ignored.
All we hear is that Bird A was found dead on Estate B, and the lab says it was killed by Poison C. Estate B has a shoot, so the keeper is guilty, QED.
But that doesn't necessarily follow. If a murder victim was found poisoned, the police would investigate the possibilities. The victim might have been poisoned elsewhere, and staggered to that spot before falling dead. Or the body might have been carried there and dumped.
So it is with birds of prey. Some poisons (eg Yaltox [carbofuran]) will drop a bird in its tracks. But others act much more slowly. A bird eating a bait laced with alphachloralose, nitroxynil or mevinphos, for example, could fly a kilometre or more before dying.
And of course there are plenty of reasons why someone might want to 'plant' a dead bird to get an estate or an individual in trouble. It could be an ongoing squabble between individuals, or just an anti-shooting extremist.
I'm sure that the people investigating raptor poisonings are aware of all this, but do they carry out a thorough forensic job at the crime scene? Checking, for instance that the bird is still lying in the position in which it died? Taking detailed photographs and noting tyre tracks, footprints and any other evidence in the vicinity?
All we get to see is the bare statistics – and they raise more questions than they answer. For instance, bearing in mind that carbofuran causes instant death, why are there so many cases of dead birds found with no mention of a bait? And why so few multiple kills? You'd expect a hare or rabbit carcass poisoned with carbofuran to collect 4 or 5 buzzards, not to mention crows and flies.
Next time there's a poisoning incident, I'd like to see the forensic report that shows not just what killed the bird, but how it got there. Then perhaps we can start to answer the conspiracy theories about the 'planting' of poisoned birds by persons unknown.