Falcons cut swath through birdlife

FEEDING TIME: Aokautere man Con Vickers feeds a few of his white homing pigeons.
FEEDING TIME: Aokautere man Con Vickers feeds a few of his white homing pigeons.

Aokautere residents are concerned the birdlife along the Pahiatua Track is being terrorised by "feathered assassins".

A recent influx of New Zealand's native falcon, the karearea, has coincided with the disappearance of the Pahiatua Track's pigeons, pukekos, hens and ducklings.

Con Vickers, who lives on the track, has been breeding canaries, chickens and homing pigeons - the last used in weddings and funerals - for almost 10 years.

He said his bird numbers had rapidly decreased in the past week and he'd watched many birds of prey single a pigeon out, swoop down and pluck it from the sky.

"It reminds me of back in the war, like in an air raid when the Spitfires were fighting German bombers."

The problems with his pigeons being pinched by falcons was getting worse every year, he said. From his flock of almost 30 white homing pigeons and 35 hens he had six pigeons and four hens snatched last week. "I'm frustrated because I don't want to see the birds being killed like that," he said.

"The falcons are a beautiful bird and I wouldn't like them hurt. I would just like someone to get them and take them somewhere else."

Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre executive director Debbie Stewart said there was a falcon release programme in the area almost a decade ago and people spotting falcons was a good thing.

"How fabulous that he'd got a threatened species in his backyard . . . it's a wonderful indication that things are right in Palmerston North. Although falcons do get themselves into trouble sometimes, and it usually is with people who keep poultry or domestic birds."

People could take measures to reduce losses, like changing feeding routines or covering cages, she said.

"What I suspect is that it is young falcons trying to find food to survive, because they don't kill for the sake of it, they only kill for their own needs."

But if they had a successful hunt they were likely to return.

"It's how they're wired . . . you can't teach falcons to eat peanut butter sandwiches and we have to learn to live with the wildlife."

Aokautere Neighbourhood Support co-ordinator Lynette Spencer said the "feathered assassins' attacks" were a community issue.

"This is causing great concern and heartache for people trying to raise chickens, ducklings or other birds. I get complaints all the time. People are really upset and angry about this because they're just killing everything in sight."

Mrs Spencer said the community was paying the price of poor research done ahead of the falcons' release.

"It's not like we're back in the days of the pioneers with huge tracts of beautiful virgin forest up and birds galore.

"There's only bare hills and cut-down forestry, there's just no food source, so of course they're coming down and hunting."

Mrs Spencer said that after community meetings and approaching Massey University and Horizons Regional Council, Aokautere residents were at a loss. "Maybe [falcons] could be trapped and then liberated somewhere else."


The New Zealand falcon, karearea, is capable of flying at speeds above 100kmh and catching prey larger than itself.

It has a wide distribution, being found in both the North and South islands and several other islands, including Stewart Island and the subantarctic Auckland Islands.

There are about 10,000 falcons in New Zealand. 

Manawatu Standard