Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Bloody Angry

The photo below shows part of a hawthorn hedge that runs up my front drive between mine and my neighbour's drive. Against the piece of fence in the hedge a Blackbird is/was sitting on eggs in a nest. I fed the Blackbirds this winter all through the snow and ice, with sultanas, chopped apples and mealworms and they have rewarded that help by nesting in my garden.
This morning as I got in the car and looked back up the drive, I saw a Magpie drop into the hedge and alight straight away with an egg in its mouth and an inspection found one egg missing from the Blackbird's nest - quite clearly the other three are now doomed.

My views on Magpies and crows in the countryside are quite widely known - along with Grey Squirrels, the bloody things are responsible for taking a huge number of both songbird and wader eggs and chicks and need to be annually culled. I have three Magpie nests within 100 yds of my house and quite clearly, judging by this morning's experience, my neighbourhood is now going to become a songbird-free zone thanks to these birds.
And yet still, I am told by countless wildlife lovers that this does not happen, not because they have practical experience in the matter as I do, both at home and on The Swale NNR, but because they've read it somewhere, and even if it does happen, well I should accept it as part of nature. Well I'm sorry but I value endangered songbirds much higher than I do over-common, thieving corvids and I can make a guarantee that those Magpies near me have now made a fatal mistake.


  1. I have noticed that there seem to be more magpies in recent years in Kent. Wonder why?

  2. John,
    Because they're opportunist birds, with few natural enemies, whose numbers have exploded in recent times due to a huge decrease in people like gamekeepers who used to control them.

  3. There you go again, over simplifying the matter.

    Gardens are a secondary habitat for birds to nest in, a poor substitute for its preferred habitat. But much of that habitat has been changed and/or destroyed by man, and is now Magpie Heaven, with the gardens serving them as a take away every spring.

    Magpies do what they are meant to do,they help limit the numbers of song birds, other wise we would be over run with them! Unfortunately weve cocked up the balance of nature, don't blame the Magpies. Blame the bad land mangement.

  4. Well done Warren!! He is spot on. Everything in Nature has a natural order unless interfered with by man.

  5. You two really do talk some blinkered rubbish - are you really suggesting that songbirds in this country are doing so well that their numbers need to be limited! And if you are, why are you happy for songbirds to be killed in order to feed an ever expanding population of corvids that will then continue to kill and eat more and more songbirds. Land management not only involves providing good habitat, which you suggest is lacking, but it also involves maintaining the correct balance of wildlife numbers, not allowing a dominant species to risk exterminating a weaker one.
    Imagine if you was managing a nature reserve and what would happen if at the end of a year, when asked by your boss why no young Lapwings were bred, you simply said - they were eaten by the crow, that's what they do!
    You need to get involved in bird protection properly and stop reading about it!

  6. There is no such thing as a 'natural order' - and I speak as a professional biologist - especially in a completely artificial environment like the British Isles. Like it or not, man is in control.

    I suspect Derek is right in that we have taken off control measures. I recall a much more robust approach in my childhood in North Cornall. We have a similar problem with foxes who are becoming an increasing urban pest.

  7. Derek,

    This posting is one of "mind - boggling" contradiction. All winter long, you have bemoaned the fact that wildfowlers were lined along the edge of your reserve in order to shoot wild birds for food! Now you are proposing to "cull" magpies because they do something to which you are opposed, ie feed on the eggs of prematurely early nesting Blackbirds.
    Two things:- One, if I was going to "cull" vermin (rats, corvids, gulls or parakeets)I wouldn't post it on my blog. You are headed for confrontation, purely because of the interests of your "followers" - Letters From Sheppey" is a natural history Blog.
    Two - In order for the Blackbird population to remain constant, a pair only has to raise two chicks to adulthood (in their lifetime) to ensure continued population stability. That your garden birds chose to nest so early is purely a mechanism by which they can get in an extra brood. If it's successful, brilliant, if not, there is always a 2nd & 3rd attempt before the season is over.
    Personally, I too would be angry about the Magpie situation, just I wouldn't bother telling anyone and get it sorted, job done!

    Love the blog - keep off the red stuff when writing?


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  10. Derek, I may not be a voluntary warden on a Nature reserve but Darren Oakley-Martin, Wildlife Adviser for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said in a recent email (not connected to your post) to me:

    'Nature abhors a vacuum and if Magpies are removed from a given area, other Magpies quickly move in, so the cycle of killing continues.

    Subtle changes to the way habitats are managed can reduce magpie predation of songbirds, such as removal of tall trees in hedgerows, which give Magpies a good' look-out' post. Removing linear corridors along which predators operate can also be effective.

    Magpies are highly intelligent, attractive birds. They co-existed with songbirds for millennia without recourse to intervention by man. It is man who is responsible for the decline in songbirds, not Magpies.'

    As I said Derek, I may not be a voluntary Nature reserve warden but the RSPB manage many, many acres of land and Nature reserves and most definitely know what they are talking about!

    Apologies for the two aborted attempts above caused by finger trouble with the spelling!

  11. Some very thought provoking opinions have been made here, and I have to say that most of them are pretty much true comments, But we really do have to look at the much wider picture.
    Over the last 20 - 30 years (maybe more) much has changed in the countryside and in towns, which has unfortunately been to the detriment of our songbirds, Yes - there has been a huge rise in Corvids, a huge rise in new builds where birds are no longer able to nest in,miles of Hedgerow gone, a huge rise in Raptors, and there is no doubt in my mind that Man is squarely at the root of most of it. but on the upside "we" are now trying to right our wrongs - too little too late?? time will tell.
    But what are we to do - do we allow Evolution to play it's part - do we give it a helping hand? Do we cull - or not? Look what happened to the Ruddy Duck, I see his work every time I go out spotting, there are Hybrid and unrecognisable "Mallards" all over the place!
    Unfortunately I can only sit on the fence when culling rears it's ugly head as I have extremely mixed feelings as to how much we have the right to interfere with nature and the natural events that occur.
    So in conclusion folks - what is the answer? I would defy anyone to arrive at a conclusive, concise solution that would not evoke an equally concise counter - arguement.