Anna's picture

What ate this pigeon?

Observed: 25th November 2009 By: Anna
S159 Neighbourhood Nature - current student
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Sorry, I know it's rather grim. All the meat had been stripped off and the bone was intact. I suspect it was a bird of prey. I would appreciate any ideas about what could have eaten it.

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Milvus's picture

Most birds of prey when

Most birds of prey when consuming bird prey, leave little nicks along the edge of the sternum (breast bone), where they have consumed the flight muscles (this is usually very obvious on most peregrine kills, less so on sparrowhawk kills, unless on smaller prey - thrushes etc.).

Difficult to see on this photograph but I am not sure that there are any obvious 'nicks' on this corpse (or the remains of it!), although the sternum does seems to have been broken, part-way along?

The way the remains are 'laid out', pectoral girdle and legs still intact, does look like a bird of prey kill, but it may not be possible to say 'who done it' or 'who consumed it' (some species e.g. red kites, routinely eat wood pigeon, but I have never seen one catch one!) from the photographic evidence.

A few questions. How old was the kill? Was there any evidence of the carcass being 'cleaned off' by maggots, or was it fresh (it doesn't look that fresh in the photographs!)? Was the corpse in a woodland situation or out in open country?


Anna's picture

I will go back tomorrow and

I will go back tomorrow and have another look, but I think it was a relatively fresh kill (the flesh on the feet wasn't decomposed at all. How long would it take for this to happen?) I didn't see any sign of maggots (although I didn't poke it to see, and am not going to!) I found it at the edge of woodland, next to an open field. We do have red kites here, but other birds of prey, too.

Thank you for your response, I've never found a bird of prey's leftovers before, only fox or road victims, so I wouldn't have known what to look for. I'll have a closer look in the morning.

Anna's picture

I've been to have another

I've been to have another look, and it looks decidedly manky now. There are maggots on it, and it is quite a bit more decomposed than it was yesterday. Oh, this is horrible! The sternum was broken, and I think there were some marks on it, but wasn't able to have a really close look without picking it up, which I am too lily-livered to do!

dshubble's picture

Bird of prey

As noted before, it's hard to tell, but my guess would be a female sparrowhawk (males can't take prey the size of a pigeon, but a female just about can) - it could be something else, but the state of the carcass you describe suggests sparrowhawk to me (and of course a scavenger may have eaten some of the remains after the initial feeding).

Anna's picture

Thank you. I didn't know that

Thank you. I didn't know that sparrowhawks could take something as big as a pigeon. I saw a sparrowhawk catch a sparrow in our garden once, and I often see where a bird has been taken from, but never where it's been taken to, so it was an interesting, if rather grizzly find!

the naturalist man's picture

Dead woodpigeon

I would say this has been killed and eaten by a sparrowhawk (female as dshubble says). A mammal kill would not be so intact. Also it is likely the bird(s) ate all the meat off this carcass as usually half eaten carcasses are finished off by foxes or badgers and would have been dismembered more. I think the maggots have finished it off.

Graham Banwell

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Anna's picture

Female sparrowhawk it is,

Female sparrowhawk it is, then. (Probably!) Thank you.