George Abbey.

The balance of nature and modern conditions of cultivation; a practical manual of animal foes and friends for the country gentleman, the farmer, the forester, the gardener, and the sportsman online

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pegging one or more to the ground, and surrounding it or them
by concealed traps, such as the Large Hawk Trap with 5 or 8 in.
jaws, fitted with double springs and setters. This highly-effective
mode succeeds by reason of the old birds seeing or hearing their
" cry,'* and attempting to release them. In like manner, if part of
a bird or animal killed by a hawk can be found, and this surrounded
with concealed traps, capture usually results, as the hawk usually
returns, sometimes after the lapse of several days, to finish its meal.

The Gyrfalcon and the Goshawk are so rare in Britain that
the sight of either or both suffices to bring out expert shooters, even
amongst foresters, farmers, and gardeners, who in sentiment are



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19« THE owl.

loud in acclaiming against the destruction of hawks and owls
and in practice lose no opportunity of killing them, and either for
gain or self-gratification employ the taxidermist. Trapping, there-
fore, in the case of these birds, and also kite and buzzard, is seldom
requisitioned, for their havoc among game, ppultry, and pigeons
is so pronounced and their prevalence so uncommon in other than
wild districts as to be regarded more as objects for the gun than
the trap.

Owl. The Long-eared Owl, the Tawny or Brown Owl, and owls
generally are sometimes classed by gamekeepers and poultry-
farmers among winged vermin, but, except where extensive rearing
of game and poultry obtains, we think unjustly. True, an owl
acquiring the habit of taking a young partridge, pheasant, or chicken
from the pheasant and poultry-rearing grounds will come again
and again, and also make recurrent visits to rabbit-warrens and
carry off the young rabbits in the dusk of the evening and at dawn
of day. Under such exceptional circumstances the bird so offend-
ing must be shot, otherwise the depredations will be continued
indefinitely, and probably lead to others of the same ilk contract-
ing similar habits — the taking of food easiest procured. But
owls, as a rule, feed mostly upon the four-footed and two-legged
denizens of the woods, fields, and gardens classed as destructive
to the crops of the forester, farmer, and gardener. In 210
pellets of the Tawny Owl, which bears the worst character
for poaching, Dr. Altum found the remains of i stoat,
371 mice, 40 moles, 18 small birds, and many beetles.
With this record justification is given for the insistence on owls
being unmolested, even by the game-preserver and the poultry-
farmer, who should remember that the owls in this connex-
ion are night-birds, and when they are abroad the young
birds, game and poutry, should be safe under the hen, also that
for an occasional taking of a young pheasant, rabbit, or chicken,
the immense destruction of mice, etc., more than counterbalance.

Carrion Crow. This cunning bird is one of the greatest ene-
mies the gamekeeper and poultry rearer has. It is not easily dis-
tinguished from the rook, although differing in its flight and habits,
and also lacks the light beak and white colour on the face of the rook.
Carrion crows are generally found in pairs, though sometimes a
flock of four or six are seen together. They pair in March, and in
the early mornings especially must be carefully watched, for nothing
in the way of eggs and young birds comes amiss to them. To trap
them, a stale pheasant, or partridge, or hen-egg, according to place
of depredation, or, better still, two or three eggs, will prove the best
bait ; pieces of high meat, rabbit paunch, or a small rabbit paunched
and split in half are also attractive. The traps, same as those used
for wood -pigeons, should be set round the bait, or in front ; two or
three traps if the bait is placed on a hedge near favourite haunts



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THE CARRION CROW 199

of the birds. Flesh-bait should be firmly secured to the ground by
wire pegs so that it cannot be moved by the bird. Small pieces of
high meat tied on the plate of half a dozen traps, which are scattered
pretty thickly and concealed all but the bait, are efficacious for taking
crows across the head. The best spots for trapping crows are
narrow belts of plantation, or at the sides of streams and lakes ;
or in coverts where there is not much underwood and which are
a little open above, in fields, by fences or near a few shrubs
or trees. If setting in plantation, choose a rough tuft of grass ;



Fig. 116. — Trap set for Egg-stealing Crows by Water.

divide the grass at one side of the tuft, and at the point of the angle
place the bait. Set the trap, " tickle," at the entrance and 4 to 5
in. from the bait, covering the trap and space around with
withered grass cut small with a knife. For setting at the side of
a stream or pool of stagnant water, cut a sod broader than the trap
and place it in the water so as to project about i ft. from the side
and almost level with the water, and placing the bait (egg-shells filled
with moist clay) at the water end, and the trap 6 in. from the
bait, covering the trap with " cut up " dead grass. Carrion crows
may be killed by placing a bait half hidden on a piece of ground made



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200 THE WAGTAIL

plain in a ploughed field and two or three traps set near it. The
edge of a manure heap does well either for taking the crows by the
head or leg. Of course, a keen search should be made for the nests
of carrion crows, and these promptly destroyed.

Hooded Crow. This bird Uves much in the same manner as
the carrion crow, feeding on garbage of all kinds, eggs, young birds,
feeble adults of both bipeds and quadrupeds on moors, preserves,
warrens and pastures, and, like the rook, not sparing seed-corn and
set-potatoes. It may be destroyed by the various methods of
trapping described under carrion crow. For crows in the open, as
on moors, a fresh sheep's head, fixed to the ground or a tree is a
good bait. The head may be surrounded by traps, or poison may
be introduced into the eyes. Attacks on seed-corn may be mitigated
by setting traj^, baited or left to take their chance ; and attacks
on set-potatoes are warded off by trapping, a few traps baited and
judiciously placed having a good effect in a day or two.



AQUATIC OR WATER BIRDS

RESIDENT
INSECTIVOROUS AND HARMLESS

Wagtail. The five species of Water Wagtails or " Dish-
washers " found in this country are all beneficial to arboriculture,
agriculture, and horticulture, because their food is for the most
part of a *' soft ** character, comprising insects of many kinds and
in their respective stages. For this reason alone, apart from their
harmlessness to crops, they deserve the strictest protection. In
the Wild Birds' Protection Act of 1880 they do not figure ; but in
several counties in England, Wales and Scotland some of the species
have been added to the schedule. The eggs are protected, under
the Act of 1894, in a few English counties. This should be extended
to the whole of the British Islands, and also to the young and adult
birds, so that their beneficial work of destroying beetles, flies, moths
and aphides, as well as millipedes, snails and slugs, may not be
impeded, particularly as by destroying fresh-water molluscs good
service may be done to sheep farmers and breeders in respect of
the liver-fluke.

Dipper. This bird is so urxommon and so little injurious, if
at all, to fish, while acting beneficially by destroying larvae of in-
sects, as to claim complete protection. In the north of Scotland it
is considered a fisher.^

^ In one Highland district 548 birds were destroyed in three years, a
reward of 6d. per head being given.



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THE KINGFISHER 2oi

PARTLY USEFUL AND PARTLY INJURIOUS

Kingfisher. There is no question of this beautiful bird hving
chiefly upon fish, and of its destructiveness at fish hatcheries ; there-
fore Fish Preservation Societies scruple not to destroy it. This
is effected by the Kingfisher Trap (Fig. 117). In setting, screw
the trap to a stump in the water where the birds resort, place a piece
of wood on the fork for them to alight on, 'or bait with a small fish.



Fig. 117. — Lane's Kingfisher Trap.

Small nets of a few yards long made of fine black silk, with a small
mesh, are used in some parts of the country for taking kingfishers.
These nets are placed across a small water-course, particularly
where bushes or trees on the banks so overhang as to form a natural
arch, or the arch of a bridge. Fig. 118, in such a manner that, a
little " slack " being allowed, the bird is taken to a certainty in
attempting to pass. In some districts a considerable income is
made by persons skilful in setting glade nets not only for taking
kingfishers, but other birds.

Heron. Though heronries are few as compared with former
times, some still exist here and there throughout the country, and
such good fishers are the birds that river conservators have to take
repressive measures and offer reward for herons killed, as by the
Exe Conservators in the estuary of the Exe, where much damage



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202 THE WATER-HEN



Fig. 1 18. — Netting Birds at a Bridge.

is done by these birds, and a heron killed in 1907 was found to have
forty -two young trout in its crop.

The heron and other fish-eating birds are taken by the heron
trap, Fig. 119, which is set under water, affixed on a stump in the
water, and, baited with a fish, — a catch is ensured.

Curlews, both " whaups " and " whimbrels," are usually shot,
their flesh being good eating. Only hurtful to fish.

Water-hens exert benign influence on watercourses, by lakes
and their environs by consuming numerous pests, but their peregrina-
tions and depredations in watercress beds are intolerable, there-
fore recourse is had to the gun, trap, and snare. As the birds
swim or run through constantly frequented tracks which they
use in dense undergrowth or rushes, hair nooses attached to string
and stretched across such places are certain to effect captures.

Coots are particularly useful in destroying various pests that



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THE LirtLE GRfiBfi no^



Fig. 119. — The Heron and Heron Trap.

prey upon vegetation, especially in breeding time ; but their eggs,
also those of water-hens, are so much sought after that neither
increase to a prejudicial extent ; and they are also so decimated
in winter by shooting, when they assemble on the banks of rivers,
lakes and in marshes, though they can hardly be considered good
eating, that riverside and marshland graziers are deprived of their
services.

Little Grebe or Dabchick. This bird, and also the Crested
Grebe, is so limited in number as to do little harm to fisheries,
though neither of these birds would be tolerated in fish hatcheries
or rearing ponds containing small fish, but would be trapped.

Common Gull. This and most gulls feed principally upon fish,
and in undue numbers damage the fisheries industry to a serious
extent ; and as their attentions to the land are mainly concentrated



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2c,4 THE BLACK-HEADED GULL

on the coasts, the farmers inland derive Httle benefit from the guWs
destruction of pests. On the coasts and in estuaries gulls devour
vast quantities of garbage that would otherwise be a nuisance,
so that upon the whole gulls may be classed as compensating in
usefulness for damage inflicted on fisheries. A fair balance is
usually maintained by relaxing the Wild Birds* Protection Acts by
County Councils so that their eggs may be taken in districts where
they have so increased as to cause serious damage to fishermen.



Fig. 120. — The Black-Headed Gull.

Gulls are readily trapped by tying a piece of offal or fish to
the plate or fork of a trap with large jaws, such as the Heron Trap
(Fig. 119), with i2-in. jaws for the large gulls, and not less than
7-in. jaws for the small gulls. The traps are set in shallow water
and secured on a stump in the water ; baited with a fish, such trap
will take any fish-eating bird. Fish-hooks are often baited with
offal, or pieces of fish, and pegged down, for the purpose of catching
gulls.

The Bl.ack-Headed Gull (Larus ridibundus.Fig. 120) sometimes
breeds on the ponds and lakes of the eastern coasts, but are mostly
driven away, as at their breeding-places they are prevented multi-
plying, the eggs being in much request, having a good flavour and
no unpleasant fishy taste, for the birds at this time of year live on
land-slugs and worms chiefly. When the eggs are removed, like
many other species, they lay again, and even a third time, but the
eggs are smaller, some not above a third the proper size. Some
eggs of this species are as abnormal in shape and size as eggs of
the common fowl frequently are. Unless unduly multiplied the
black-headed gull is not injurious to cultivated crops.



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CHAPTER Viri
MIGRATORY BIRDS

INSECTIVOROUS AND HARMLESS

Nightjar or Goatsucker. Feeding entirely upon insects —
night-flying moths, beetles, gnats, etc. — this bird is strictly pro-
tected. Sometimes, however, it is captured in glade-nets, stretched
in narrow glades or ridings in woods from tree to tree, ostensibly
for catching hawks, but harmless night-flying birds often fall victims
in glade-nets to the '* setters ' " rapacity.

Swift. This bird has lofty ideas in nesting arid flight, and
scours the open spaces in towns and their environs in quest of
insects incessantly from dawn to dusk, freeing the air of countless
pests.

Swallows. These live solely upon insects, taking flies of all
kinds and many species of gnats, small moths and beetles on
the wing, and beetles and other insects upon the ground. The
swarms of winged aphides that migrate from ligneous to her-
baceous plants, and from one plant to another in early summer
in woods to late September, afford a fine harvest for swallows,
and the crane flies that fly over the marshes, fields, pastures and
lawns towards the end of the summer, are eagerly seized by the
swallows flying low. Harming no one, swallows should be strictly
protected internationally, their slaughter in the South of Europe
and everywhere interdicted, even as food, and above all for pur-
poses of fashion. Probably every swallow worn as millinery
represents a decrease of useful vegetation equal to the weight of
the person wearing it, in consequence of damage inflicted by pests
as result of its destruction, and it equally applies to the food
furnished to the killer by the swallow, this being out of all pro-
portion to the food that would be available were it allow'ed to
live and render incalculable service to humanity. Birds, eggs
and free-breeding should be a national and international concern
as regards protection, no interference with these being tolerated
in any part of the world, not even by a sparrow, much less by a
person for ladies' headgear.

Grasshopper Warbler and Sedge Warbler. These birds
render untold service to foresters, osier-growers and farmers by
river and stream-sides. Anglers, however, complain of small
bird protection resulting in a relative scarcity of mayflies, etc.,
so that both the fish and sport are embarrassed.



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2o6 THE NIGHTINGALE

Nightingale. Delightful in song and harmless in habits,
this bird is a general favourite and welcomed by every one, eacoept
the farmer, when its presence draws crowds of listeners to tramfde
down his meadow grass and other crops. For capturing nightin-
gales a trap, called the nightingale trap, a compromise between the
bow-net and the spring trap, is used, also for taking most insecti-
vorous birds, and may be bought at most bird-shops.

Chiff-chaff and Willow Warbler. In devouring the pests
of forest-trees, particularly leaf-rolling caterpillars, the chiff-chaif
is pre-eminent ; and for clearing woods, thickets, pleasure grounds
and gardens of insect pests the willow warbler has no rival.

Common Whitethroat or Nettle-creeper. Feeding upon
aphides, caterpillars and other forest, field and garden pests, much
benefit is conferred on the nation. Similar remarks apply to the
Lesser Whitethroat or Brake Warbler. In Fruit Crops and Bird
Protection Mr. Cecil H. Hooper says, of the nettle creeper, that
" in July and August they bring their broods into gardens and
orchards, and make havoc among the currants and raspberries :
they also eat green peas and peck green gooseberries." This
excerpt is given as showing the acquiring of new tastes by insecti-
vorous birds under certain circumstances, for in ordinary garden
practice these proclivities on the part of the whitethroats are cer-
tainly exceptional, and, for practical purposes, it is safe to say that
the benefit derived from their presence more than counterbalances
any loss of garden produce.

Wheat-ear and Whin-chat. These birds are in such esteem
for the table, and so confined to solitary places, that they are not
likely to increase to a degree as to change habits, which are favour-
able to vegetation. Wheat -ears are caught by suspending a hair
noose between two turves placed on end, and touching each other
in the form of a roof of a house. To this shelter the birds con-
stantly run on the approach of danger, or even, apparently through
timidity, on the gathering of storm-clouds.

Redstart. Ants and their " eggs," flies, moths, spiders, cater-
pillars, worms and beetles enter largely into the fare of this bird,
and as it never touches fruit and builds its nest in orchards and
about houses, no one has a bad word for it.

Grey Wagtail. Nothing but good can be said about this, and
also the Yellow Wagtail and White Wagtail, as they feed almost
entirely upon insects, and are true friends of sheep-farmers in
destroying the water snails that act as hosts to the liver-fluke.

Titlark. There is no bird with a better character for working
on behalf of the forester, farmer and gardener, as it exercises its
good influence in wooded districts, clearing innumerable cater-
pillars in feeding its young and the surface pests away from streams
that wagtails may not trouble about.

Flycatcher. Mute and famiL'ir, this bird works with a will



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THE RED-BACKED SHRIKE 207

on insects that have taken to flight by the time of its arrival in
Britain, seizing sawflies, large moths, such as the yellow imderwing,
white butterilies, flies, beetles, aphides and other pests on wing.
It visits and nests in town parks and gardens, and destroys pests
that plague men and animals, or injure wild and cultivated crops.
Flycatchers are said to eat cherries and raspberries, but this, as
in some other cases of insectivorous birds, is for the living creatures
found upon the fruit.

Red-backed Shrike. Although young birds, some say of game,
may enter into the menu of the shrikes, essential service in de-
stroying cockchafers, grasshoppers, dragon-flies and other insects
is rendered to arboriculture, agriculture, horticulture and pisci-
culture. The prey of these birds is mostly taken on wing, after
the manner of the flycatchers.

Siskin. What the warblers, frequenting osier-beds and wooded
margins of streams, effect in destroying insects, has its reflex in
the siskins' feeding largely upon weed-seeds in those localities,
though some aver that the birds are a means of scattering seed
over the land, ignoring the fact of seeds digested being lifeless.

Redpole. Feeding upon small seeds, such as wild sorrel, knap-
weed, plantain and other obnoxious weeds, this bird is useful,
and would be more so if bird-catchers were not allowed to capture
them on waste places where weeds flourish and " winged " seeds
perfect.

Wryneck. The ants, " farming " aphides, have no greater
enemy, and the pests infesting tree stems and limbs no more
assiduous " rooters " out than the wrynecks.

Cuckoo. For devouring hairy caterpillars, even '* woolly
bear," and particularly gooseberry caterpillars, combined with
all the hairy gentry that feast and fatten on foliage in woods,
coppices, hedgerows, fields, fruit plantations and gardens, this bird
is unequalled. It also eats flies, beetles, grasshoppers, surface larvae,
such as leather-jackets and wireworms, millipedes and molluscs,
but its chief food is caterpillars. The young are mostly reared
by the foster-parents on smooth caterpillars until they are able
to obtain their own food.

Sandpiper. This bird is to riversides in summer what the
woodcock represents in winter, viz. the destruction of countless
worms, molluscs and insects, which are not beneficial to
land crops, whatever may be claimed for them in behoof of fish.

Woodcock. Though confining its attention to woods and
thickets by watercourses, swamps, etc., much good is effected
by the consumption of worms and molluscs, with larvae of insects,
inasmuch as pests consumed there prevents *' crawlers " and
" fliers " on land correspondingly. But the woodcock feeds largely
upon ground some distance from wood and thicket watercourses,
even hill downs being visited where formerly underwood or furze



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2o8 THE SNIPE

was cut about a foot in height to a great extent along the ground
in the shape of the letter v, at the apex of which an opening would
be left where a hair noose would be set, which seldom failed to
yield the pot-hunter a nightly supply, as the cock would run along



Fig. 121. — The Woodcock.

the side of the brushwood, feeding until it was led into the snare.
Woodcocks, however, are now so scarce that '' pot -hunting " in the
manner described is seldom practised. Nevertheless, in Ireland,
on Lord Ardilaun's estate at Ashford, in Lough Corrib, more than
two hundred woodcocks have been shot in a day.

Snipe. Nesting to some extent in Britain, this bird may seem
displaced in this connexion, yet snipe mostly migrate for breed-
ing, and it is in winter time that their influence for good is exerted
by destroying in or by small streams and ditches innumerable
worms, molluscs, Crustacea and insects. Snipe are sometimes



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THE^ RUFF 209

captured by fen-men and others at night by dragging a draw-net
over the swamps and " gripped " fields, the booty including not
a few larks and plovers.

Ruff. This bird is useful by feeding upon worms, molluscs,
Crustacea and insects in fen districts. In former times advantage
was taken of the devotion of the males to the females by decoy-
ing them into nets or snares when '* hilling," by previously setting
nooses or nets in their battleground, into which they danced
when fighting.

PARTLY USEFUL AND PARTLY INJURIOUS

Hobby. Feeding chiefly on small birds, particularly the sky-
lark and other denizens of the field, living on herbage and on seeds
and grain, including mice, voles and beetles, this bird must be
regarded as more useful than injurious to the. general welfare of
the nation, though it certainly preys on small game, both winged
and ground, and even pounces upon chickens. It is, however,
rare, and while game-rearing lasts is likely to be, in spite of
County Council regulations in respect of egg and bird-taking pre-
clusions, inasmuch as should-be informers are really the •' breakers,"
well knowing that their dastardly work has no surveillance,
and no hawk or owl suspected of interfering with game
preservation and poultry rearing is countenanced, and therefore
arboriculture, agriculture, and horticulture suffer in the degree of
the decimation.

Short-eared Owl. To agriculturists this bird is of great
service in keeping down field and grass voles, mice and young
rats, beetles and other insects. Its services, however, are mostly
confined to tracts that are relatively left to take care of themselves,
such as heaths, moors, bracken-places, furzy downs, hill pas-
tures, and marshy meadows in the north of England and in Scot-
land, though not infrequently found in tracts of highly cultivated
land, from John o' Groats to Land's End, there, of course, being
some intermingling of wild with cultured stretches of country.
This means the broad distinction between Nature and Culture,
In the former the creation takes its course with little interference
by man, but certain creatures increase to the advantage of the
sportsman, and this by keeping down vermin-carnivorous beasts
and birds of prey. These live upon herbivorous or vegetation-
feeding animals and birds, which increase proportionately with the
decrease of the carnivora or balancing forces of nature, and there
follows a plethora of deer, hares and rabbits, grouse, partridge
and other winged game, with a vast increase of vegetable-feeding,
fruit and grain devouring birds. This is really success for the



Online LibraryGeorge AbbeyThe balance of nature and modern conditions of cultivation; a practical manual of animal foes and friends for the country gentleman, the farmer, the forester, the gardener, and the sportsman → online text (page 22 of 29)