An Unlikely Decoy

An unlikely attractant
I should have worked in the theatre

It is always worth having a few tricks up your sleeve when it comes to catching crows, so that when you have a totally dud year with the larsen there is at least some kind of backup plan. Far be it from me to write blog articles about crow control, but it is worth relaying one little trick which I was taught several years ago and still works as well as it ever did.

Received wisdom has it that live crows are terrified of the sight of dead crows. Already we’re into a grey area, because when we say “crow”, we often just mean all corvids, from carrions to jackdaws. When we build a “scare-crow”, it’s probably more likely that we’re trying to scare rooks, and the phraseology gets confusing in no time at all. In fact, rooks are the only “crows” which appear to be frightened by the appearance of their dead brethren, and although this soon wears off, it is clear that there is some registry of understanding there.

If you throw a dead pigeon down on the ground, the chances are that it will be totally ignored by other passing pigeons, unless there are white feathers lying around, in which case the pigeons clear off altogether. When decoying pigeons, I’ve had half a dozen dead pigeons in amongst the pattern and it never seemed to make too much difference – that is until you get a runner and the white feathers start to fly. Perhaps this is an indication that pigeons are not quite so acute as rooks when it comes to differentiating between life and death.

When you watch how a carrion crow reacts to the sight of one of its own lying dead on the grass, you get an idea of where this blog is going. Nothing makes a carrion crow more angry than the inexplicable sight of a dead comrade. If he can see the human being responsible for the death, then the sky will fill with upset, but at a wise distance. The fury is almost palpable, but the bird will be little more than an unassailable speck in the sky. However, if he can’t see what the problem is, the anger is mixed with a good portion of curiosity. The crow knows that something bad has happened, but he doesn’t know what, and the not knowing is almost as irritating to him as the threat that the discovery represents.

They scream and yell, descending until they are hanging over the dead body or land in a nearby tree, summoning any other crows which happen to be in earshot. The challenge is then for the human being to be sufficiently motionless that the crows can build up a head of self-righteous steam until the moment comes when as many as possible are in range and the shotgun can step into action.

I was having some real trouble with a pair of crows who ransacked at least one grouse nest and were showing every sign of being invulnerable to a larsen trap. I watched them at first light as they peered in through the open doors of the trap and bowed to the callbird, but they stubbornly refused to go inside. This went on for three days until I decided to take more practical action. Taking a dead crow from one of the other larsen traps, I plucked some feathers off its back so that they would swirl around in the wind and catch the eye, then retreated to the fastness of a young beech tree. Full balaclava and hooded ex-military camouflage jacket were the order of the day.

Within forty five minutes, the crows in question spotted my little piece of theatre. I could hear them screaming from almost half a mile away, and they came straight in at a fever pitch of bile. So transfixed were they on the dead crow that they never even looked my way. It was a simple case of waiting for them both to be visible at once through the flossy green beech leaves, then it was a simple left and right.

It feels counter intuitive to attract an animal with the sight of one of its dead comrades, but the grouse and the curlews have this old trick to thank for sending those two robbers upstairs.


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