It is nesting season and corvid fledglings are about to leave their nests to start the big adventure of life. Corvid fledglings are fully feathered and healthy looking birds, who can perch, stand and hop by themselves. They are already able to fly short distances. Fledglings of many bird species leave the nest at this stage, and for good reasons. If they would remain in the nest, predators could have an easy meal, killing the whole brood at once. Leaving the nest and hiding scattered in trees, in the undergrowth or in bushes, even when not fully developed and not being able to fly properly, is the best way to increase survival chances. It gives fledglings the time and required exercise to improve their flying skills, which often takes less than a week of daily practice, after they have left the nest.
This story occurred a couple of years ago, but the described scenario and underlying problem is as timeless as ever. During my evening shift as marine mammal surveyor on board of a ferry on route to Santander in Spain, I was forced to witness a small group of lost racing pigeons loosing their fight against the strong winds of the Bay of Biscay. I had to watch the drama unfolding, and there was nothing I could do to help. In this respect, spring and autumn surveys are known to be particularly emotionally demanding, as surveyors are regularly forced to helplessly watch the struggle of travelling and migrating birds. This situation is neither unexpected nor unique, but can be emotionally draining. At the very least, it feels very surreal when witnessing tragedies like this one on board of a luxurious ferry, where most people are busy enjoying their lives and holidays. Most of these tragic encounters go unnoticed and are missed even by keen birders and whale and dolphin enthusiasts armed with expensive gear.
Let me get straight to the point – wildlife management using lethal methods such as culling or killing is not just unethical and unnecessary, it is scientifically proven to be inefficient in almost all cases, in particular long-term. However, despite this common knowledge, governments, farmers, hunters, gamekeepers, pest controllers and many conservationists will almost exclusively suggest lethal methods of wildlife control as the most effective solution in wildlife conservation, wildlife management and to address any wildlife related problem. Scientific evidence suggesting the opposite will be commonly ignored, wrongly interpreted, or used out of context. There are many known factors, which influence public opinion and behaviour, but also common and widely accepted management practices. First we will highlight some of the more common problems and misperceptions, as this kind of background information may prove useful for the general understanding, before we will explore examples of lethal wildlife management and their consequences.