A RARE bird of prey from the North Pennines died from a tick bite, conservationists have revealed.

The dead Merlin’s body was discovered by a member of the public who was out walking near Wickham, in Hampshire, in early January.

The bird is likely to have travelled the south of the country for the winter and would have been returning to the region’s moorlands shortly to find a mate.

Its untimely death, 454 km from where he was ringed as a chick in the North Pennines in 2020, has been blamed on a tick bite.

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And conservationists say it is a reminder of the dangers ticks can pose to humans and animals and the need for control, especially as they become prevalent due to milder winters.

The walker who made the grim discovery contacted the British Trust for Ornithology about his find and, importantly, had the hindsight to freeze the carcass in case it might be useful.

His quick-thinking meant that the Merlin was able to be examined for a post-mortem to find out how and why it had died. The fact that it was a ringed bird also meant that the BTO were able to track the bird’s history.

When the Merlin was ringed in the nest, he was one of a brood of five healthy chicks consisting of four males and one female born in Northumberland.

As soon as the inspection of the bird began it was very apparent why the Merlin had died.

The person undertaking the post-mortem said: “I could immediately see the problem and subsequent cause of death; he had a large, engorged adult tick attached under his left eye.

“The whole area was distended and inflamed from the tick’s attachment. Pathogens passed from the tick into him, causing the fast and very sad demise of an otherwise healthy bird which weighed 165g and was otherwise feather perfect.

“This is an all-too-common occurrence sadly, due to warmer winters and tick prevalence as a result.”

Darlington and Stockton Times:

The dangers of ticks to humans have become more well-known in recent years, with increasing public awareness of tick bites and the risk of getting Lyme disease.

There are also various other tick-borne diseases which can cause serious illness in a whole host of animals, including sheep, deer and pet dogs.

This includes birds, and they often suffer severe side-effects - a single tick can have extremely debilitating and life-threatening consequences for a bird, as demonstrated by the sad death of this Merlin.

A spokesman for The Northern Pennines Moorland Group said: “We were very sorry to hear about the untimely death of this Merlin, who we now know was born and ringed in the Northern Pennines in 2020.

“As well as reinforcing the importance of tick-control, the fact that this Merlin was ringed makes it easier for us to understand their routines and movements through the year.

“They are resident breeders on the moors and fells in the spring and summer months, and we are always delighted to see them, and to help and accommodate the BTO with their vital nest recording scheme and ringing work under the schedule 1 licensing system.”

It is likely that the Merlin would have been overwintering in the south of England – probably feeding on the flocks of finches, larks and pipits which inhabit these areas in winter.

Around February or March time he would have returned to the moorlands to find a mate – following the pipits back to the moor.

The Group spokesperson said any information gained from these breeding surveys becomes increasingly important as members try to understand how best to conserve vital breeding sites for the last populations of this iconic little raptor.

They also said tick control is a vital part of land management for the benefit of both humans and animals, and is becoming increasingly important as tick populations continue to grow, said the spokesperson.

Their numbers can be controlled using a variety of methods, including the burning of heather and cutting of bracken, the culling of deer, and the use of sheep – which are then treated with acaricides – to ‘mop up’ ticks.


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