China's raptors: majestic birds vital for ecological equilibrium
China has a rich diversity of raptors, with multiple species of these majestic birds known to inhabit its landscape. Shanghai itself had 43 distinct species at the end of 2022.
They play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance by regulating population levels of other animal species through their position at the top of the food chain.
All raptors in China are protected at the national level, and steps have been taken to improve the ecological environment to help ensure their survival.
"As predatory birds, raptors regulate populations of other animal species through their pivotal role in the food chain," said Deng Wenhong, a professor of ecology at Beijing Normal University. "An ecosystem without apex consumers, such as raptors, is unhealthy."
Raptors not only live in the wild but also in urban environments. "In Shanghai, you can find raptors in city parks and suburban areas. They may inhabit tall, mature trees," said Bo Shunqi, who works at the Shanghai Wild Animals and Plants Protection Department.
The improvement in the ecological environment ensures the survival of raptors.
"As more ecological corridors connecting parks and green spaces are established in Shanghai, squirrels and other small-and-medium-sized birds, significant sources of food for Crested Goshawks, have more space to move. And typically, where there are those animals, there are Crested Goshawks," Bo said.
"The implementation of new regulations on the conservation of wild animals in Shanghai on October 1 will strengthen the protection of habitat for birds in particular."
"Beijing's forest cover has expanded, providing favorable habitats for raptors," Deng said. "Due to the improved urban environment, certain raptors, such as Eurasian Eagle-owls and Little Owls, have migrated from the wild to the city.
"Generally, wild animals do not make their poor condition visible, which means they could be hunted in the wild," said Bo. "So, if you encounter a wounded raptor, it means it has sustained significant damage. You can notify the police station or a wildlife organization about the injured raptor."
Bo explained that transporting a baby raptor that has fallen from its nest to a zoo or conservation station is not always the best option.
"One reason is the baby raptor may lack the care and guidance from its parents. In addition, its ability to survive in the wild may be compromised, posing challenges for its life after release."
"You may return the young raptor to its nest, where its parents will care for it," Bo added. "If it is injured, professional wildlife organizations must be contacted."
The Shanghai Zoo, Shanghai Wild Animal Park, and district-level wildlife shelter and rescue institutions are responsible for sheltering and rescuing the wildlife in Shanghai.
"Raptor rescue accounts for around 7 percent of total wild animal rescue in Shanghai," Bo said as he recounted a rescue attempt.
A Crested Goshawk was found in a kindergarten in Xuhui District. The examination revealed that it was only scared and not physically injured. As soon as its condition improved, it was released with a GPS tracker. The final data revealed that the Crested Goshawk migrated to a mountain range in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province.
"It was a successful rescue. Not only was it rescued when it was discovered, but it was returned to the wild and survived," said Bo.
There is a dedicated raptor rescue facility in Beijing. Since its founding in 2001, the Beijing Raptor Rescue Center has received over 5,800 raptors of approximately 40 species. There are currently around 70 raptors at the center.
After receiving the injured raptors, the rescue center conducts a thorough physical examination, administers the necessary remedies and rehabilitation, and releases them when they are healthy.
"It is essential to prevent young raptors from developing an attachment to humans. We minimize unnecessary contact with them," explained Zhou Lei, a rehabilitator who has worked at the facility for more than a decade.
"Sometimes, while feeding baby raptors, we don raptor hand puppets or dress as trees when handling them. This serves to preserve their natural instincts, facilitating a future return to the wild."
Earlier this month, continuous heavy rains in Beijing had an adverse effect on the raptors.
"Their feathers remained wet for an extended period of time, hindering their ability to fly and provide insulation," Zhou explained. "We received approximately eight injured raptors and treated them."
In addition to its rescue efforts, the center collaborates with other scientific research and academic institutions to conduct research on raptors. It engages in educational initiatives to increase public awareness of raptor conservation.
"It's common to come across raptors in the city, such as on rooftops and areas where air conditioning units are placed, especially during the breeding seasons of May, June, and July," Zhou said.
"Raptors actually live all around us. We consider them our wild neighbors," Zhou added. "Don't disturb their life. And when they are in need of help, we can seek assistance from rescue organizations."
If you encounter an injured raptor, contact the police station or a wildlife organization for assistance. Do not feed them or take them home.
Contact the Shanghai Forestry General Station at 86-21-56071348 or the Beijing Raptor Rescue Center at 86-10-62205666.
Call 12345 to obtain the district telephone numbers of the Shanghai Forestry General Station.