The recession has been blamed on a growing trend for the theft of birds of prey from the wild in the Midlands.
An increasing number of rare birds using urban nesting sites has also helped thieves gain access to species such as sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons.
The region has become a crime hotspot for thefts, prompting the National Wildlife Crime Unit to issue a warning that it is monitoring the area as part of a pro-active bid to catch culprits red handed.
The theft of birds of prey eggs has long been a problem but it has also emerged the protected birds are being targeted too.
Last week four, caged young sparrowhawks were seized from a house in Muckley Corner, near Lichfield and last month a man from Kidderminster was charged with illegally selling barn owls.
The recession has been partly blamed for wildlife becoming easy pickings for thieves trying to cash in as more birds of prey make their homes in cities across the region.
But the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) is working hard to identify more offenders to justice.
The unit’s Alan Roberts said: “We do have a problem in the Midlands with birds of prey being taken out of the wild. Birds like peregrine falcons are colonising a lot more inland sights, including churches and universities.
“But they are being taken by those that are inclined to be lazy. Rather than breeding them themselves they take them out of the wild then try to filter them into the legitimate system. The global recession is not helping.”
But he added: “We are out there and we are getting more intelligence all the time. There’s a lot more enforcement action going on than there’s been previously. If people are taking birds out of the wild they should be looking over their shoulder and can expect a knock on their door.”
Checks on paperwork and DNA testing can be used to check if birds have been legally bred in captivity.
While there are many legitimate birds of prey owners anyone who suspects any illegal activities should call Staffordshire Police on 0300 123 4455 and ask for their local wildlife officer or call Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111. Just one tell tale sign would be a clutch of young birds of prey without their parents.
For more information on the NWCU, which is a police-led, standalone, multi-agency unit with a UK wide remit for wildlife crime set up in October 2006, visit www.nwcu.police.uk.