Writer, zoologist and gundog enthusiast, Pippa blogs on life in the countryside

Protecting the pheasant poults from raptors

We have plenty of raptors on the shoot,  and the pheasant poults need to be protected from these deadly birds of prey.

pheasant poultsDay by day the  poults grow bigger and stronger. They are still very shy and this is a good thing as it keeps them tucked under the vegetation whenever a ‘shape’ approaches.

Each year we lose a few poults to tawny owls, buzzards and sparrowhawks.  Tawny owls hunt at night, only killing the very small poults and tend to leave the poult where they have killed it, coming back for seconds and thirds over the next two or three days. For this reason we leave the dead poult in the pen so that they can continue to feed on it each night. If you remove the poult, they will simply kill another one.

Tawny owls actually nest and raise their babies in this hollow tree just feet from the gate into one of our pens. owls nestHimself made the mistake of peering too closely at the nest one year and got himself dive bombed by an outraged mother owl. The wound in his head took quite some time to heal!

 All the baby owls are long gone by the time our poults go into the wood.  This pair will carry on killing a poult every two or three days for no more than a couple of weeks and as owls are territorial, we don’t get massive numbers killed this way. We just have to accept these small losses.

 Sparrowhawks also kill poults and will take slightly bigger ones. We have a lot of sparrowhawks on the farm and their favourite food for much of the year seems to be woodpigeon. They hunt the pigeons across the open fields and into the pen wire on the edge of the woods. Many days there are wood pigeon feathers scattered in heaps along the edges of the pens. When the poults are small, they are an easy meal compared with the aerobatic woodpigeon.

Again, the sparrowhawks do not kill huge numbers, and as they hunt during the day, there are deterrents we can use to make hunting our pens unattractive to them. As well as the plastic game feed sacks we hang from trees, old CDs are useful. They spin in the wind when hung up, and create a flashing visual deterrent.

Buzzards are less predictable. Some years they don’t show any interest in the pens, in another year, you will get an individual buzzard that will ruthlessly pursue the occupants of a pen killing dozens of birds in the space of a week. I  suspect that this type of behaviour is that of a juvenile bird practicing his hunting skills as he will often strike the backs of the pheasants with his feet, killing or maiming them, then move on to the next bird without feeding on the last.

Again, flashing, spinning and brightly coloured objects are our only defence against these birds, which are all protected by law.

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