Editor’s note: This post has originally been posted on 29th May 2018, and has now been updated and republished.
What have cats, cars and wildlife in common? Cats are domesticated companion animals, cars are machines built by humans, and both are able to kill sentient beings when not supervised or controlled. Cars can kill cats and wildlife, and cats can kill wildlife too. Neither of both scenarios is ‘natural’, both are artificial and creations of humans. So what is the impact, and what can be done to keep both, our beloved companion cats and wildlife, safe?
Are corvids cold blooded killers or merely opportunistic scavengers? This is the question we are trying to answer in this blog post. Mainstream media and advertising businesses often have a tendency to present an idyllic and idealised version of farming practices, showcasing for example animals living in picturesque environments. This imagery is employed to evoke positive emotions and create a connection with consumers. It is nothing else than a marketing strategy aimed at promoting the products derived from the use of non-human animals, such as meat or wool, by associating them with positive and wholesome images. Humans have a natural inclination to connect with and appreciate the beauty of animals. The sight of a playful and adorable lamb triggers positive emotions, such as joy and warmth, which does evoke empathy and a sense of compassion.
Bearing this in mind, then it is not surprising that the sight of corvids scavenging on such an innocent being will without a doubt be repulsive for most people, who will immediately sympathise with the victim, and not with the scavenger. Unfortunately, media representations of such wildlife interactions with domesticated non-human animals are commonly very much one-sided, despite the well known fact that it is always essential to consider all nuances and complexities of such interactions.
Media portrayals often focus on dramatic or attention-grabbing stories, which can lead to an exaggerated or sensationalised narrative. While isolated instances of corvid predation on lambs occur, it is essential to keep in mind that wildlife predation is just one among many factors influencing lamb mortality. It is crucial to take scientific research in account, as we will do, when discussing these matters.
We will show the links between mainstream media, their owners and agricultural businesses, and we will demonstrate historical, cultural and psychological background information to explain why a picture of corvids as being coldblooded killers is being painted. We will look into the human psyche, but also at the reality of agricultural businesses.
This short videoclip shows a fascinating encounter between a rather naughty and very persistent hooded crow and a juvenile mute swan. Neither the victim nor a nearby adult bird, presumably a parent of the young swan, seem to be too much annoyed by the antics of the crow, who repeatedly pulls the tail or tries to get hold of some wing feathers.
Over the years we have been contacted repeatedly by rescuers and lay people, who were caring for corvids such as magpies, jackdaws and crows, and who observed that their foster birds showed difficulties with flying despite appearing otherwise fit and healthy. Some of these birds demonstrated abnormal flight feathers and showed an unusual or even abnormal behaviour not normally expected in wild birds. A closer assessment of the plumage showed quite quickly that these birds had been wing clipped.
What is feather or wing clipping, and why is this being done?
All wild birds are protected during nesting season. This includes their nests, whilst in use or being built, as well as any eggs the nest may contain. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) it is an offence to:
intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird,
intentionally damage, destroy or take the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built,
intentionally destroy an egg of any wild bird
and intentionally or recklessly disturb certain wild birds or their dependent young while they are nesting.