Local residents Karen and Jenny have contacted me about the death of two Little Egrets on the same stretch of the River Wandle at Beddington. Both specimens were recovered from the river and collected, There was also a Grey Heron reported dead along a stretch of the River nearby and there has also been a Little Egret at Beddington Farmlands (adjacent to the stretch of river) which has a broken leg.
This cluster of dead or injured herons coincides with reports of boys with catapults along nearby stretches of the River Wandle and there is also a witness statement reporting a man walking in the river to retrieve one of the egrets and hiding it (from where it was recovered by the witness).
It's all rather suspicious and extremely concerning.
Yesterday I collected one of the specimens to examine it. There were three injuries on the bird- a cracking adult with plumes on the head, back and breast. Apart from the injuries the bird was in pristine condition.
The injuries were a small puncture wound to the neck, a broken right tarsus (tarsometatarsus bone) and a large wound on the breast which has removed breast muscle tissue and broken the sternum.
I'm no expert in this specific field but to me the injuries look consistent with a catapult wound. A predator kill would surely show more signs of a struggle, the bird would not otherwise be pristine apart from the wounds and of course a predator would usually (not always) eat parts of the bird too.
I am waiting to confirm likely cause of death by RSPB Investigations (if they reply) and the incidences will be reported to the police and the local media. Raising public awareness could lead to more vigilance and the culprits being documented and reported to and arrested by the police.
The Friends of Beddington Park and witnesses have already alerted the police who so far have said they can't do anything without more information.
Little Egret- found dead on Friday
Injury one- small puncture wound to the neck
Main injury- a relatively large cavity in the breast and broken sternum
Little Egret at Beddington Farmlands last Tuesday. This bird also has a broken leg and was flying from the direction of Wandle Bank (the site of the two dead egrets). It's possible the above pictures are all of the same bird. I found similar stains (not exact) on the primary tips of the right wing on both birds - shown clearly in this image. If this is the same bird it would imply that the injuries were sustained over at least two difference incidences with the broken leg predating the presumably fatal wounds. This could imply that the bird has suffered a sustained period of targeting.
More on this as it comes in. I intend to do a full dissection of the specimen on Tuesday in order to preserve the skin and examine diet and look for any other injuries and clues.