I met a crow in the wood today …

I met a crow in the wood today. I watched him for a while and he watched me. I could see he was eye-balling the wood margin where a hen pheasant is on eggs in the nettles. He was also watching the nearby hedgerow where the chaffinches were nesting. I raised my shotgun, convinced that his intentions were less than honourable. The crow coughed politely. “Pray hold your shot, Mr B”, he ventured. “I think you will find, sir, that you can’t shoot me so casually!” I lowered the gun. “And what makes you think that, Mr Crow?” I asked. He flapped his irridescent wings. “Because, sir, you are not acting in accord with current licensing!” he stated. I sighed. “Mr Crow, you have clear intentions regarding the pheasant eggs and I know you will plunder the chaffinch nest and take their eggs.” The crow cackled, a sort of wicked laugh. “The chaffinches have fledglings, Mr B! You are less observant than me. Pray, may I ask what License you intend to use to justify murdering me, sir?”

Shocked by his arrogance, I sat on a stump and removed from my bag the document wallet containing my shotgun certificate and permission notes. I pulled out a copy of the recently issued GL26 and waved it at him. Then I read to him “This licence may only be used: 1. for the purpose of preventing serious damage to certain specified livestock by this bird species, 2. if serious damage is occurring or is reasonably expected to occur in the absence of licensed action, and 3. where reasonable steps to prevent predation by lawful methods have been and continue to be taken.” The crow cackled again. “And the specified livestock are?” he challenged. I smiled and responded, using the terms on the license. “reared gamebirds and wildfowl(including released birds while they are kept *)” The crow danced gleefully on the bough. “Released, Mr B, released! There are no released game birds or release pens on this estate, sir. They are wild game birds!” This was all I needed this morning. A willow-branch barrister. “Aah, but the emphasis, Mr Crow, is on the word kept. Come look at this”. The crow flew down and sat on my shoulder while I read him the definitions on page 4 of GL26. Particularly “gamebird … is dependent of food put out by the gamekeeper then it is may be regarded (sic) as livestock even if it is free living.” “Let me see this”, snapped the barrister (sorry – the crow!). He snatched the document from my hands and flew back up to the branch where he proceeded to read the License. I raised my gun again, ready to put an end to this nonsense but the crow shrieked. “Woah, stop good sir! Stay that shot, for you risk a serious breach of the law!” I shrugged. “What now, Mr Crow. What more could possibly prevent me from exercising the right to put a rightful end to your intended mischief?”

The crow flew back down and dropped the License in my lap. “Section 8, Mr B. You have not attempted reasonable endeavours to thwart the threat I pose, have you?” I read Section 8. “While you read it, sir, I need to sate my hunger at the chaffinch nest” announced the crow. “Don’t you dare!” I retorted. The crow cackled again. “Your License doesn’t cover chaffinches, sir. I’ll see you shortly.” He flew to the hedgerow. I studied the License. It referred to ‘Tables’ by which I should justify my ‘last resort’ actions. I considered each piece of advice in turn, in relation to the wild game birds. Husbandry … no issues there. Reducing attractiveness … some confusion here. This is a wild bird shoot, so no pens. Scaring … human scaring. Now there’s a thought. By now, Mr Crow was back on the willow branch crunching on a little pink chaffinch chick. I stood up and waved my arms, dancing and ‘moving randomly’. The crow ignored me until he had gulped down his final morsel. By now I was rolling in mirth on the woodland floor. The crow asked “What section are you on now, Mr B?” I could hardly gain my breath to answer, eventually squeezing out “The scarecrow section, Mr Crow!” The crow laughed back “Yes, I thought that was a classic, too!” he chortled. “If using scarecrows, make it look as real as possible, dress it in your old clothes, sit it on a chair and put a gun-like stick in its hand, move it regularly (ideally daily or more frequent). Occasionally change places with the scarecrow, and use this method to shoot at or kill corvids (under licence). Wonderful. But you haven’t tried that yet have you, so you cant shoot me!” He flew off to grab another fledgling.

I moved on to read the ‘diversionary feeding’ section. This was great stuff. Feed the crows to stop them predating game birds.  ‘Wild animals such as rabbits, game birds, grey squirrels or deer can be used.’ It left me wondering who the hell would shoot a deer and sacrifice prime venison for the sake of shooting a crow. By now the crow was back on his bough, gorging on his second chaffinch chick while I read Table 2 and now knew that this document had been written and signed off by total morons. Apparently I was meant to calculate whether the intentions of Mr Crow and his kin would reduce the gamebird population here to below 35%? I thought for a moment, then asked “Mr Crow, can I beg a question?” He craned his neck and let the last sliver of decimated chaffinch slide down his black throat. “Go ahead, Mr B. Ask away.” He flapped his wings and let out a belch. “Is it true that crows can’t count?” I asked. The crow ruffled his plumage and croaked, “What are you inferring, Mr B? That we crows have no intelligence?” I knew I had him now. “No, not all Mr Crow. How many chaffinch chicks are left in that nest?” He considered my question. “As many as I’ve already eaten” he replied. “So, two” I said. “He clearly had no notion of numeracy and took a guess. “Yes, two.” So he had already consumed 50% of the nests inhabitants. “Do they taste nice, Mr Crow?” He flapped his wings. “They are delicious, Mr B. You should try chaffinch some time.” He was mocking me now. “So, given that I can’t protect that nest do you intend to leave it now or will you eat the other two?” In answer, the crow flew to the hedgerow again and returned with a third little gaping chick. “I will eat them all!” he bragged. “And the pheasants eggs, should I retire, legally defeated?” The crow ignored my question, too busy trying to swallow his little songbird. “Mr Crow, will you eat some or all of the pheasant eggs, given that I apparently can’t protect them?” The crow jigged on his branch, stopped and stared at me. His black eyes bored into mine. “I will take great pleasure in eating them all, Mr B. Some for breakfast, some for lunch and the rest for supper.”

I raised the gun, slipped the safety and shot the crow. His body fell with a thud and a flurry of black feather. I stood over the corpse and took out my notebook (with respect to section one of GL26, recording and reporting). I wrote “M’lud … the bird in question clearly demonstrated a tendency toward avarice and an inability to realise that its life could be saved by limiting its predation to less than 35% of a population. So I shot the little beggar.” 

 Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, May 2019

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