Mouth swabs to probe rare bird bloodlines


Goshawk chicks in Kielder Water and Forest Park are having their mouths swabbed in a bid to discover more about their bloodlines in the Northumberland wilderness.

The bird, which was once persecuted to extinction but reappeared in Kielder in the 1960s, is one of the rarest in the UK and a special licence is required to visit its nest. Now monitoring by the Forestry Commission, which includes ringing, weighing and measuring chicks, is being stepped up to include taking a DNA sample.

Goshawk and chicks (photo: Forestry Commission).

Martin Davison, a Forestry Commission ornithologist, explained: "Blood tests carried out two decades ago found that the local population derived from a single female, presumably the one that arrived in the forest 50 years ago. We are now seeking proof that new bloodlines have since come into the forest. It’s an interesting project, but very much in its early days. We expect the results to confirm that the bird is drawing on a wider gene pool of unrelated birds. That is important because it makes for a healthier and more viable population. Goshawks are magnificent birds and it’s good see the population is stable."

Rangers are staging three Goshawk walks to raise the curtain on the Wild at Kielder season, which celebrates the forest's amazing wildlife. The walks will hope to see the thrilling 'sky dance' as male Goshawks bid to impress potential mates. Wild at Kielder season is organised by the Kielder Partnership, and for more details of other exciting events visit www.visitkielder.com.

Walks take place at 10.30am and 1.30pm on 5th March and 9am on 6th March. Booking is required on 01434 220242 and the cost is £6 adults, £5 concessions and £16 for a family of four.

Written by: Forestry Commission