How can we protect our poults from birds of prey?
Q Last year we had a lot of problems with birds of prey killing our newly released pheasant poults. Can you provide any advice on what we can do this year to prevent this?
A THE SPARSHOLT TEAM replies: I don’t think you will ever prevent it completely and will have to accept a certain amount of losses to birds of prey, just as you do to roads, diseases and over the boundary to your neighbours. However, there are certain things that will help lower the impact that birds of prey have. Which techniques are most effective will, in a large part, depend on which raptors you’re dealing with – so the first thing to be clear on is exactly which species are causing the problem. This requires some careful fieldcraft to examine the signs at the kills, or you may even see the culprit fleeing the scene.
Tawny owls and sparrowhawks are only an issue initially until the poults grow beyond them, so some form of deterrent to keep them away from the release pen at this vulnerable stage may work. There is a vast range of visual and acoustic deterrents that will scare predators for a short while, however if used for too long they will just get used to them (habituated) and they will no longer be effective. How many times have you seen CDs and eye bags hanging in release pens in November? All the inhabitants of that wood will just ignore them now! The trick with all deterrents is to use them for as short a time as possible – when your poults are most vulnerable – and keep moving and swapping them around.
Another, often overlooked, technique is to make sure that your poults have plenty of really good escape cover in and around the pen that is too thick for most raptors to venture into.
Diversionary feeding is often mentioned as a technique but I have yet to see any real evidence of its effectiveness. Even then it’s probably only of real value when dealing with carrion eaters, such as buzzards and kites, as most other raptors prefer a fresh kill. One thing’s for sure: it will increase the number of raptors in the area.
The final solution may be to apply for a licence to control problem birds but for any chance of this being granted you will need evidence of the losses and that you have already tried all the above and more.