A PENSIONER has told how his prized racing pigeons are being slaughtered by birds of prey.
John Graham, 69, said up to a dozen of his birds have been targeted by sparrowhawks nesting near his crees.
The retired fitter, of Usworth, Washington, said neighbouring pigeon fanciers have also been hit.
“You can tell from the injuries that they have that it’s the work of a bird of prey and not a cat,” he said. “They’ve been cut open and then eaten. All that is left most of the time is a shell.
“I lost a bird the other week that cost me about £50, and I know it’s not just me who is having this problem.
“People living right the way down to Barmston are having their birds killed.
“We’ve all seen sparrowhawks in the area.”
Mr Graham said he has seen the problem grow worse in the past two years as the number of sparrowhawks, which are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, has increased on Wearside.
It is currently an offence to kill, injure or take an adult sparrowhawk.
“There seem to be a lot more of them and as their numbers grow, the problem gets worse and worse,” said the grandad. “I dare not leave them unattended for a minute and whenever you let them out you’re constantly on guard.
“I really don’t know what to do.
“The sparrowhawks should really be kept under some sort of control, but because they are protected there is very little anybody can do to keep their numbers down.
“You cannot kill them because it’s a fine and a potential prison sentence.”
Mr Graham, a lifetime pigeon fancier, added: “I’ve been looking after pigeons since I was a youngster, but this is the worst I’ve seen it.
“The rest of the pigeons are absolutely terrified.
“They are on edge all of the time. You just don’t know when the sparrowhawks are going to strike next.”