Written Answers. - Protection of Birds.

Seán Haughey

Question:

106 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht if he will review the protections in operation to preserve peregrines in view of their killing of racing pigeons and the decline in the number of songbirds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8517/96]

The Council Directive on the conservation of wildbirds (79/409/EEC) lists the peregrine falcon as an annex 1 species. Annex 1 species under the Directive shall be the subject of special conservation measures concerning their habitat in order to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution. The peregrine falcon is a protected species in Ireland under the Wildlife Act, 1976.

The population of peregrines in Ireland declined to circa 30 pairs in the early 1970s due largely to the use of pesticides. The Irish population has now recovered to circa 450 pairs (350 in the Republic and 100 in Northern Ireland). However, it is still a species of global conservation concern.

Peregrines prey on a wide variety of medium sized birds ranging in size from thrushes to woodpidgeons-mallard including feral and racing pigeons. Aside from anecdotal evidence, there is no information available which can quantify the impact of peregrines on racing pigeons. However, in view of the relatively low population of peregrines and the wide variety of prey available to them, predation on racing pigeons must be extremely low particularly in comparison to losses arising from weather, exhaustion or other natural threats.
There is no evidence anywhere in Europe that peregrines (or any other bird of prey) are responsible for declines in song bird populations. Again, the low Irish population of peregrines could have little, if any, impact on song bird populations. Declines in some song bird species have been attributed to factors such as agricultural intensification, afforestation, climatic changes and domestic or feral cats. The National Parks and Wildlife Service is currently planning baseline population surveys to establish future trends in populations. Song bird species of particular concern are ring ouzel, wood warbler, bearded tit, tree sparrow, twite and corn bunting.