VIDEO: Birdman of Derbyshire on a mission to help purge pests

A Derbyshire bird of prey specialist is offering budding falconers the chance to learn the ways of these most enigmatic creatures.

Ashover zoologist, James McKay, 63, has been using his birds to control pigeons, gulls, starlings and house sparrows for the last 30 years.

Bond the enormous Bald Eagle is only a youngster and will take many years to develop the breed's famous white head and neck.

Bond the enormous Bald Eagle is only a youngster and will take many years to develop the breed's famous white head and neck.

Now, after amassing decades of experience in this most highly specialised field, he hopes to share his expertise with others.

The cardinal rule, he says, when ‘displacing’ problem birds, is that killing them doesn’t work.

“What we do is effective, ethical and non-lethal,” he explains.

“It is the threat that is important – you have got to make the area unattractive to the pest species.

Bond the bald eagle.

Bond the bald eagle.

“Our birds are a threat or are perceived as a threat but are trained in a way where they will not attack the pest birds.

"Some people might say it causes them stress but I think that is better than killing them.”

James currently has 67 birds of prey at his Ashover farm, including harris hawks, falcons and even an eagle.

The eagle, Bond, is especially good for getting rid of geese, he says.

James McKay with Tilly a cross bred from a Gyr and a Saker falcon.

James McKay with Tilly a cross bred from a Gyr and a Saker falcon.

With a three-metre wingspan and weighing six kilos, it is easy to see why.

The other birds we meet, while smaller, are no less impressive.

These include Arthur the harris hawk and Tilly, a cross-breed falcon.

James, who is originally from Sheffield, moved to Ashover with his wife 23 years ago.

Arthur the harris hawk.

Arthur the harris hawk.

They live at a farm off Slack Hill with their four springer spaniels and countless other animals.

Their son, who lives just 10 minutes away is, unsurprisingly, a vet.

While James’ birds are impressive in their own right, the problem they combat is very real.

“People like birds but at the same time they can be a problem,” he says.

“They are attracted to food and shelter. I was working in Sheffield city centre once and we realised there was a pattern to what was happening.

“It turned out to be a little old lady who was buying loaves of bread and feeding the birds.”

Arthur in mid flight.

Arthur in mid flight.

The avian pests James and his birds target can produce a terrible mess and can even cause people health problems.

On top of that, some gulls can even be highly aggressive – something that can cause tourists to avoid certain areas and businesses.

The problem has got so bad in some areas that some councils are even putting anti-social behaviour orders on bird feeding to reduce the problem.

After James carries out a complete survey of the whole area, he then gets to work on strategies to solve it.

As well as the birds of prey, this can include physical barriers or nets to stop the pest species coming back.

When the birds have been cleared, James’ role changes to one of educating people in the area so birds don’t return.

Asked what first attracted him to birds, James struggles to pin it down to just one thing.

“I got my first hawk for passing my 11 plus. It is just everything about them,” he says.

“They are a wild animal you have to have a mutual respect – you cant shout and scream at them.

"Every time you let them go they can fly away if they want to.”

The key, says James, is to make it more attractive for them to stay.

Their luxurious quarters at James’ farm are air conditioned in the summer, heated all winter – and the guests have all the food they need.

They are so well looked after that they live four times longer with James than they would in the wild.

“It sounds corny but they are working for me,” says James.

“And in pure business terms, I want to look after my investment.

“It takes 1,000 hours of training to get a bird to fly the way they do for me.

“It isn’t easy – more people would do it if it was.”

By way of responding to this skills gap, James’ firm, The Bird Control Company (TBCC), is to start teaching the first professional training course in the use of hawks for bird control.

The two-day course is due to run in January next year in Chesterfield and will cover all aspects of professional bird control.

For more information, call 01246 591590 or email info@bird-control-company.co.uk.

Bond's deadly talons.

Bond's deadly talons.

James at his Ashover farm.

James at his Ashover farm.

Arthur getting his reward.

Arthur getting his reward.