Stone the crows
PUBLISHED: 17:58 25 April 2014 | UPDATED: 21:07 29 April 2014
My young poultry are growing nicely in the warm weather, but I’m plagued by black birds. Are these crows? Someone said they might be rooks. Some of them are smaller and have grey heads.
How can I protect the eggs, birds, food and water from them? Magpies don’t seem as numerous around here.
The old country saying that “lots of crows will be rooks and a couple of rooks will be crows” is generally true. Rooks and jackdaws (the smaller greyheaded ones) like company, whereas crows tend to go around in singles, pairs or small families. Crows nest in solitude and rooks like their communal ‘parliament’. Crows have all black beaks and a neat undercarriage, rooks have paler faces and baggy trousers. Crows will take feed, eggs, chicks and young poultry. Rooks will take feed and eggs, sometimes chicks, but they’re not the outright killers that crows are.
Jackdaws take feed and eggs, and are very noisy. Magpies are instantly recognisable with their smart coloration and will take feed, eggs, chicks and any young poultry they can carry off. They and crows are the ones which will damage your birds, but all of these corvids can steal and/or contaminate the feed and water, leading to disease (parasites, bacteria, viruses). Defra recognises this and has put in the avian influenza biosecurity recommendations that all poultry feed and water should be protected from wild birds.
This can be achieved by using automatic feeders such as the spiral feeder, and automatic drinkers such as the Quill drinker. You could instead put the feed and water in the henhouse, and pin strips of black plastic (bead curtain effect) over the pophole to discourage the corvids.
You will probably have heard of the Larsen trap which is a legal livetrap and acts on the territory principle with a decoy bird. Crows tend to get wise to these, so the (also legal) letterbox crow trap is well worth building. The basic measurement for the crow trap is about 2m by 2m. The top entry must be like a ladder with the central square a critical 14cm and subsequent squares 14cm by 9cm, so the parallel rungs are all 14cm. Both traps are baited (white bread, eggs, roadkill rabbit) and the decoy birds fed and watered. The traps must be checked at least once a day.
Only empty the traps of corvids in the dark, otherwise other crows will see their mates panicking and realise that the trap is a threat. If it’s dark enough, cull the birds in the trap (you will have remembered to build yourself a door!) and Semark pliers are useful for this.
If it’s still a bit light, put the trapped corvids in a poultry crate so they can then be taken into a building to be culled away from any sharp-eyed crows up late, and in case one escapes. They will both bite and claw you so gloves are useful. The advantage of both these traps is that any non-target species caught can be easily released unharmed.
Visit the Game Conservancy Trust’s website (www.gct.org.uk) and search “predator control”, to obtain their revised booklet Predator Control, or phone them on 01425 651003. VR
Victoria Roberts BVSC MRCVS
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Disclaimer: The information and advice in this column is given in good faith. However, as the animals in question have not been examined by the author, no liability in respect of diagnosis or application of any treatments is accepted either by the author or by Country Smallholding