Crows and Magpies commonly attract criticism for “stealing” eggs and chicks from the nests of other birds. Of course this is very distressing to witness but it is simply part of nature in the same way as when a osprey takes a fish, a kestrel takes a mouse or a hedgehog eats a slug! Predation is a natural part of regulating species numbers. Yes, they will sometimes take birds who are threatened such as sparrows and song birds but these birds aren’t threatened because of natural predation. They are threatened because of habitat destruction by man and the introduction, again by man, of unnatural predators such as domestic cats. Larger birds may sometimes “hog” food left out for other garden visitors and, since what goes in must come out, can be a little messy.
The problem with lethal control
Many kinds of vertebrate pest problems can be largely alleviated by modifying the conditions of the habitat.
– Biological Control of Vertebrate Pests, Walter E Howard.
It is surely cruel and disproportionate to take a bird’s life simply because it is causing inconvenience. By leaving out poisoned food you risk targeting other birds and animals. Attempting to shoot them using an air rifle or similar is dangerous and difficult for obvious reasons and your chances of hitting one accurately enough to provide a humane death are minute. But above all it will not solve the problem! If the bird who is causing a problem is killed but your garden is still welcoming and food is still accessible, another bird will move in and do the same thing. It is a far better solution to take these preventative measures and protect your property permanently.
Most obviously there is the scarecrow – such a familiar sight it is easy to forget what its original purpose was!
There are also commercially available silhouettes of cats or birds of prey which can help to deter other birds. Another trick is to drive stakes into the ground and fix plastic bags or sheets on tinfoil to them. As they flap in the wind the birds will find these quite daunting and avoid the area. It will also help if you put all bird food into hanging mesh feeders rather than on flat bird tables. The basic principles of integrated control apply – remove the things attracting the birds eg food, certain types of habitat or roosting opportunities, and take active steps to make the area unattractive and the birds will move on.