Welfare, release and dispatch

Non-target release

Remember that if using rabbit or other carrion as food for decoys, a multi-catch cage trap may attract and catch non-target species such as buzzards. Birds other than those permitted for capture under General Licences must be released unharmed immediately on being found. In this instance, if a couple of corvid decoys are also present in the trap at the time a buzzard finds its way in, you are best to first catch (by hand or small landing net) and confine the corvids before opening the door to let the buzzard out. However, if the trap contains numerous fresh-caught crows along with a buzzard, it is advisable to first carefully catch the buzzard and release it before attending to humane crow dispatch.

There are essentially two recognised methods for ensuring the safe release of accidentally caught raptors. The first is to simply open the trap door wide and then walk round to the opposite end of the trap and gently shoo the raptor towards and out of the open door. However, the design of the door may be a ‘half-door’ through which the operator has to step over a fixed lower panel to enter the cage. In this case, as the raptor will not be able to walk out itself, you will need to enter the trap wearing garden-style gloves and carrying a towel.

The raptor is likely to head into a ground level corner as you approach it. Drop the towel over the bird and, once the sudden darkness has calmed it, put a gloved hand on its back and place careful downward pressure at the same time as grasping its legs with your other hand. Now lift the bird up and carry it out of the trap for release. As a raptor will sometimes lie on its back with its claws pointing upwards; simply follow the same procedure of placing a towel over the bird and grasping its claws.

If you have to enter a trap containing a lot of corvids as well, just head straight for the raptor, as it will likely be the calmest bird in the cage. Rather than sulking in a corner, it might be readily caught (adopting the same procedure) while climbing the cage wire.

Humane dispatch

When dispatching birds in a multi-catch cage, the General Licences demand that all reasonable precautions are taken to ensure that any killing of birds must be carried out humanely as soon as reasonably practicable after discovery. Humanely is defined in each licence as taking all reasonable precautions to ensure that any killing of birds is carried out by a single, swift action. To ensure effective dispatch, we recommend that each individual bird is first caught by hand or with a small net as might be used for landing fish.

Corvids and especially crows have a strong head and can peck and break your skin. We therefore recommend that you wear gardening or similar protective gloves.

Catch each individual bird by hand (or using a small hand net if you prefer). Having taken a firm hold across the bird’s body, rap its head hard against the nearest frame of the trap. This should kill it with a single blow, but always dislocate the neck straight away just in case the bird is only stunned. Please always take away the carcasses and dispose of them properly.

Destroying corvid nests

The General Licences permit the destruction of eggs and nests as part of a corvid control programme. Many keepers like to push out old corvid nests when drey poking for grey squirrels in early spring. This is certainly helpful in allowing the keeper to easily spot any new nests being built on his beat. Care must be taken, however, as it is an offence to damage the nests of birds of prey. Sitting corvids often stay on the nest when approached, and it is sometimes possible to shoot them.

Wing clipping

Under section 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to use a decoy which is tethered, or which is blind, maimed or injured. A well-publicised court case addressed the issue of whether a wing-clipped decoy (i.e. feather clipped) was ‘maimed’ and therefore illegal. Although the case concluded that wing clipping was not maiming, we are against this practice. It does not enhance the welfare of the decoy and does nothing to improve the effectiveness of the trap. It also means that if someone liberates your decoy(s) there is a high risk that it will suffer a slow death by starvation.