Pigeon fancier fined £450 for shooting sparrowhawk

A pigeon fancier has been fined a measly £450 after pleading guilty to shooting and killing a sparrowhawk.

60 year old Duncan Cowan from Cowie in Stirlingshire was observed coming out of his shed with an air rifle and firing at a sparrowhawk in the field behind his garden on 18 April 2019. He fired three or four times as the sparrowhawk attacked a pigeon.

The police were called and the Scottish SPCA took the shot sparrowhawk for veterinary attention but it didn’t survive its injuries.

[Cowan outside his shed. Media handout]

Yesterday at Stirling Sheriff Court Cowan pleaded guilty to a charge under Section 1(1)(a) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 resulting in the fine.

Sara Shaw, Procurator Fiscal, Wildlife and Environment, said: “I welcome today’s conviction and the message it sends to those who choose to commit acts of violence against wild birds. Wild birds are given strict protection under our wildlife laws and COPFS will continue to prosecute such cases where appropriate to ensure that offenders are brought to justice.”

The sooner the proposed increased penalties for wildlife crime are enacted, the better. Having said that, the current maximum penalty available is £5,000 and/or a six month custodial sentence so a fine of £450 is still incredibly lenient for the deliberate injuring (and subsequent killing) of a protected species.

After gamekeepers, pigeon fanciers accounted for a significant proportion of all those convicted for raptor persecution crimes between 1990 – 2018, according to RSPB data (BirdCrime Report 2018)




26 thoughts on “Pigeon fancier fined £450 for shooting sparrowhawk”

  1. They should have confiscated his pigeons and banned him from keeping them for life: tha twould have sent a proper message.

  2. I can remember a pigeon fancier bragging over 30 years ago about killing Sparrowhawks at his new loft on what had been a small private nature reserve near Knaresborough. Unfortunately his loft wasn’t attached properly to the large plinth it stood on and a live Mink in a sack managed to get in to the loft. Apparently when he unlocked the loft door the following morning a Mink ran out but there were no live pigeons for him to feed. Wicked I know and one cannot condone it but it was sort of natural justice even so.

  3. https://www.scottishlegal.com/article/stirling-pigeon-fancier-fined-for-killing-wild-bird

    “Duncan Cowan, from Cowie in Stirlingshire was fined £450 after pleading guilty to a charge under section 1(1)(a) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 at Stirling Sheriff Court”

    Did he actually have an Air Weapon Certificate ? Possessing an air rifle is no guarantee that he had a certificate. Criminals do not obey the law. That is the problem with these types.

    To get an Air Weapon Certificate the applicant must state the intended use for the weapon and where it is intended to use it. I wonder what answers he gave to that on his application. If the answers were false then I cannot see how the certificate can remain valid.

    There are unanswered questions in this case (the firearm certificate angle in a lot of wildlife cases never seems to be mentioned. I think that hidden is an accurate description) and the public should provided with the details.
    It is clearly wrong (and downright stupid) for any criminal to retain possession of a weapon. What is the reason for the secrecy ?

  4. Supposedly pigeon ‘fancying’ is losing two to three percent of its supporters every year, that’s good news, it’s not a quaint little hobby, beloved part of working class culture (Cowie is a former mining community). I know of one person who keeps pigeons who ISN’T rabidly anti raptor. I’ve heard one local pigeon fancier say he would automatically kill any bird of prey he thought might threaten his birds, and some years ago they got together to ask the local MP to push for control of birds of prey claiming there were too many and they threatened their pigeons. This issue actually made it on to the front cover of the local freesheet distributed to practically every household in the area, I wonder how many of the thousands of people who must have read it believed it? It wasn’t that long after the red kite reintroduction at Doune had taken place so of course there was a claim a red kite had been seen trying to catch a pigeon going into a loft!

    Their concern for the welfare of their birds is somewhat flexible – one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen was an unwanted pigeon being drowned in a bucket of water, I was a shy 15 year old visiting a friend who took me up to the kitchen window to see what was going on. I’ll never forget the way that bird’s wings thrashed frantically against the sides of the metal bucket as it’s head was held under. That must have been a common occurrence in that household. Then there are the live pigeons coated with poison staked out near peregrine nests and pigeons released with fishing hooks on them to entangle any attacking BoPs .https://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/641652/pigeon-breeders-flying-trap-birds It’s also noticeable the number of ex keepers who keep a few pigeons and love to talk about them coming under attack from raptors. I wonder if this is why they keep pigeons to give themselves another opportunity to spout anti raptor bilge, given the mentality of these people I don’t think this is far fetched, a bit of football hooligan mentality trying to stir up aggro with the other side.

  5. A sparrow hawk is not a protected species, it is as common has the starling,the fancier should be able to protect his own animals under attack just like a fox with hens.i can not believe you protect sparrow hawk that are clearing our gardens with song birds and finches we dont see anymore only feathers left from the sparrow hawks kill.

    1. I’ve read some absolute nonsense in my time, but that is right up there for pure ignorance. Sparrow hawks are protected; I suggest you read up on the basics before embarrassing yourself any further. Scientific research also shows that there is no correlation between sparrow hawk numbers and song bird populations,

    2. Oh it is protected Les, from 1964 ten years after legal protection of the other raptors was brought in, but that’s still fifty six years that it’s been illegal to kill a sparrowhawk (and starlings are declining, but that’s nothing to do with sparrowhawks). I’ve only ever seen sparrowhawks where there’s a decent number of smaller birds which makes sense since no animal can survive without its food supply or by killing it off. Since there’s a fair amount of ‘rough’ land where I live in spite of all the hard landscaped, and plastic lawn gardens there’s plenty of small birds including sparrows near me and therefore I see sparrowhawks fairly regularly. One morning I had one zip past me only about a dozen feet from the end of my nose, absolutely magical. If you’re really worried about small bird populations I suggest you do everything you can to make your garden a haven for them, put in plants that will provide berries and seed, plus cover for them to nest/roost in. Make sure they have a bird bath and maybe look at providing roost sites for them and nest boxes – you can even get ones for swallows and Martin’s now. If you train ivy up a wall it’s good for all sorts of wildlife, but birds will like the berries and eventually may nest in it. All of these things will do some good, blaming a native predator for declines it’s not responsible for or couldn’t survive with won’t.

    3. Every bird species in the UK is protected by law though an annual general license applies permitting lethal control of a small number of species for very specific reasons, and in very specific (last resort) circumstances. Sparrowhawks are not on the general license and neither are any raptor species. Contrary to what some ill-informed people believe, a general license doesn’t permit the everyday killing of, say, magpies because they happen to opportunistically predate eggs and nestlings of songbirds.

    4. I now live next to a dairy farm, not part of it, & this time of year there are lots, thousands of starlings about…annoying people by Sh*****ing on their cars etc. I like them, great characters, and we have 20 chaffinches, sparrows, lots of goldfinches. Since I have been here, 3 months I have seen a sparrowhawk 3 times in the garden. (a)..hardly as common…talk sense! Song birds have been surviving with probably much larger numbers of Sparrowhawks in the past before idiots, I’m tempted to say like yourself wanted to destroy them all and they became endangered. They, and some other raptors are doing well now as they are ALL protected, (Not that that stops those same idiots from killing them), but doing well does not mean there are too many, and keeping chickens is not excuse for killing foxes; if you cant protect them in this day and age, stop keeping them. Predator and prey is what happens in the wild. There is nothing natural about pigeon racing/fancying, or even chicken coops, so they must be carried out with all due care and attention to their enclosures, not blaming the wildlife for taking advantage of a free buffet.
      As for being all concerned about your garden song birds…Oh please…no-one with that mentality you are showing, gives a toss about any wildlife, so dont go spouting that rubbish, you sound like the criminal elements of the moor land keepers ‘trying their best to protect waders’.
      (Sorry, getting carried away; I should have left it with Les’s calm, considered response below.)

    5. Les, your comment is so over the top, it’s hard to believe it’s not just a wind-up. In that sense it’s almost amusing. If your Sparrowhawks are clearing your gardens of song birds and finches [finches are songbirds, by the way], why do they keep coming back and taking more, if as you say there is none left? Individual Sparrowhawks have extensive hunting ranges, and their numbers depend on the average density of suitable prey species within that range. It’s called the balance of nature, and why Sparrowhawks are far less numerous than your song birds and finches [sic].

  6. Many gamekeepers have pigeons for the simple reason of using them as bait once they locate the territory of any raptor they deem a problem … which is all of them. Once tethered the game keeper takes up a position and waits until their desired target comes in to prey on the pigeon .. then BANG!
    Game keepers raising pigeons is akin to an angler keeping a worm farm in their backyard for handiness.
    It is as well to keep in mind that opportunist kills, like the one this man was convicted for, is basically the low hanging fruit. However the killing of raptors on pheasant shoots or grouse moors is organised crime, which puts them in a totally different position as regards the legal world. They organise, employ strategy, use hi-tech equipment like night sites, (rumoured to be borrowed from military sources), put ice on eggs while protected by the best lawyers that money can buy, courtesy of their employers in whose interests these crimes are committed.
    As a final word I was amazed at the post by Les Ketchell who misrepresented the facts in the very first phrase of his contribution. Les, ALL birds of prey are protected species since the 1954 Protection of Birds Act. The really sad part is that Les continued along the same lines seemingly unaware of the fact that sparrowhawks evolved at the same ti/me, sharing their territories with the song birds and finches mentioned, and all the species thrived.

    1. Aaaahhhh…that would explain why so many gamies have pigeons, it’s definitely noticeable how many do compared to the general population, thanks George. I know live pigeons have been used illegally in traps certainly. Well it might not be the prime reason, but I bet pigeons are also kept to try and blacken raptors – they never lose an opportunity to do so.

  7. Fair play to this grubby common Sprawk-killing criminal – at least he’s copped for and taken it. Unlike the cowardly forelock-tugging keepers with their expensive townie QCs and funny handshakes to help them get away with it (allegedly)

    1. And aldicarb! I wonder what his employment history is? I’m assuming that because the SSPCA were involved the banned pesticides were picked up on, if the press article is correct. If so shows how on the ball they are, they definitely need to be given greater powers.

  8. In addition to the fine, it would have been welcome if the court had imposed a ban on Cowie possessing firearms.

    I understand the police did search for the air weapon but were unable to locate it, and Cowie claimed to have disposed of it after the incident. But a court order preventing Cowie from owning firearms would have sent a very strong message that the killing of raptors will not be tolerated.

    The comments from Les Ketchell, if not made as a poor joke, indicates just how ignorant some people are.

    All birds are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is an offence to kill any wild bird regardless of species.

    The General Licence offers a defence to killing certain species of bird such as Crows, but only in certain circumstances, and the defendant would have to show that the bird killed met one of these particular circumstances- eg- to conserve wild birds and to conserve flora and fauna.

    However the licence clearly specifies the following: before using this licence, reasonable endeavours must have been made to achieve the purpose in question using lawful methods not covered by this licence (unless their use would be impractical, without effect or disproportionate in the circumstances); and
    when using this licence, reasonable endeavours must continue to be made to achieve the purpose in question using lawful methods not covered by this licence (unless their use would be impractical, without effect or disproportionate in the circumstances).

    In reality, many relying on the General licence as a defence to an offence committed by killing wild birds such as Crows have made no attempt to use lawful means, but simply reach for the shot gun at the sight of “pest species” in their neighbourhood.
    (It is probably for this reason – that many shooting estates have started placing gas guns up on moorland- as a non lethal means to deter Crows etc- and thus comply with one of the conditions of the General Licence- but this has raised another problem – of whether the sites where the gas guns are placed is also to deter birds of prey from nesting?- this is perhaps a matter for further debate? )

    So to return to the issue raised by Mr Ketchell- It is irrelevant whether the sparrowhawk is a protected species- it is illegal to kill any wild bird. . a crime has been committed – and the General Licence only offers a defence to this crime by permitting the killing of certain species of birds and only in certain circumstances, and then only when other lawful methods specified within the Act have been considered.

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