Killer birds, dropping dead

Falcons vs. fungus: An airborne mould is killing gyrfalcons, a favourite of Arab sheiks


Falcon breeder Hans Jürgen Küspert was putting the finishing touches on a 6.5-million-euro showroom and guest house fit for the Arab sheiks who frequent his Falcon Center in northern Germany. Then, suddenly, hundreds of his birds began to die—and Küspert blames a fungus coming from a neighbouring mushroom farm.

The green mould Aspergillus fumigatus was in fact found inside the respiratory systems of the deceased birds, and the falcon breeder has sued the mushroom producer for 3.5 million euros. But Küspert’s neighbour Torsten Jonas, who manages what is Germany’s largest organic mushroom plantation, says the raptors’ lungs weren’t strong enough to handle an organism that’s found almost everywhere on earth. Simon Etherington, a falcon breeder in Canada for over 20 years, says that the gyrfalcons favoured by Arab buyers (the species originates in the Arctic, where there is little or no fungus) are indeed “very susceptible” to the mould. He grows his in the countryside, far away from high concentrations of airborne spores.