How can you protect game birds from rooks? Mike Swan offers some tips
Why you need to protect game birds from rooks
Rooks can cause great damage to game nests and how much depends on the availability of alternative food.
Rooks breed earlier than crows and magpies to exploit the damp soil conditions of early spring, which makes feeding their young on earthworms and grubs easier.
If the spring is dry then foraging will become more difficult and after a dry spring rooks often become serious predators of game nests.
Time for rook pie
Controlling rooks effectively is often difficult due to the sheer numbers involved. In May, some of the newly fledged young or ‘branchers’ are shot in the rookery. It’s then time to learn to make a rook pie which is absolutely delicious.
When birds are flighting onto your land from a distant rookery then large multi-catch cage traps can be effective. Rooks will look out for outdoor livestock feeding areas and target them, particularly open topped pheasant laying pens and spring drilled crops. You should erect cage traps close to these areas – or on the flight line – and pre-bait with grain or white bread for a few days.
If you can, leave one side of the sectional cage open so rooks can come and go and let down their guard. Once large numbers are feeding confidently you can set the cage to catch.
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has some useful information on suitable types of trap – roof funnels, ground level funnels, ladder letterbox traps – and how they should be used. You can find out more here.
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Rooks are crafty creatures and it’s important you remove any trapped birds at dusk so other rooks cannot see what is going on as they are very quick to catch on. Don’t underestimate the intelligence of rooks – it may be necessary to move the cage from time to time, especially if you have had some good catches at one site.
Shooting rooks is now illegal in Wales
Rooks were taken off the general licence by Natural Resources Wales in October 2019. The government body explained its reasoning thus: “Findings from the UK Breeding Bird Survey suggest that in Wales rook populations have significantly declined over both the long term (by 60% between 1994-2017) and in the short-term (by 50% between 2007-2017). Due to the significance of this population change, rook will not be included in the new General Licences.”