This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
To the forester; grazier; forage, cereal and root crop, also vegetable-growing farmer, the blackbird is a boon, for in these domains it feeds upon worms, beetles, caterpillars, larvae of insects, snails and eggs of slugs, and does no harm by devouring wild fruits, such as raspberries, blackberries, haws, hips, and berries of dogwood, ivy, and yew. Added to all these properties is its value as food, now unappreciated by Britons, though in Norway rhyme days blackbirds appear to have been a royal dish. Of course, this is in the autumn and early winter time when, for exportation, it would probably be necessary to secure them alive, for which purpose we commend the Take-up Trap used for catching pheasants required for pens, but of smaller size.
Fig. 103. - The Take-up Trap for Blackbirds.
References: s, basket, 2 ft. 6. in. square, 15 in. high, with door at top for removing the birds; t, bent stick in bender; u, upper stick with notch; v, lower stick.
The blackbird, thrush, etc., Take-up Trap (Fig. 103) may be set by hedges, in shrubberies, copses, etc., on level ground; the ends of the bent stick for bender, are fixed in the wicker, the bender being about 2 in. from the ground. The two sticks are then placed in position as shown in the illustration, the upper end in the wicker, but so that it can "fly" inwards, the lower end resting against the bender, and the whole held up by the lower stick, one end of which is placed in the notch of the upper stick, the other resting on the ground. Some apples or other fruit should be strewn underneath the trap inside the bender and the upper stick secured to the bender so that the trap will not be struck. When the birds take the bait freely, peg some down inside the bender and remove the string preventing the basket falling. The bird or birds step on the bender, and the trap falls and secures it uninjured.
The blackbird is very useful in pleasure grounds, delighting every one with its clarisonous song; but in the fruit garden, plantation and orchard it is the blackest of ripening or ripe fruit pilferers, slyly appropriating strawberries, currants, cherries, gooseberries, raspberries, apples, pears, and plums, frequently commencing the attack when the fruit gives the first indication of ripening, or even trying it whilst green. In some localities, where there are extensive shrubberies, copses, and woods, particularly when game is strictly preserved, in the vicinity, it is impossible to grow fruit profitably without destroying the blackbirds, for unmolested they will, in many cases, devour or spoil the entire crop, particularly of soft fruits. Indeed, from the time the first strawberries or bush fruits ripen until autumn the blackbird lives upon fruit, and moves from place to place, and whilst as many as 70 or 80 of these birds along with a few thrushes may be shot by four expert shooters in a morning, and totalling 2,000 in a year on a large fruit plantation, the blackbirds still come every year without any notable diminution.
Shooting and trapping is the only remedy, combined with the destruction of all the eggs or young blackbirds in their nests in hedgerows or wherever the game-preserver will admit of access; there being no question of an undue increase of fruit-devouring birds being a result of the close preservation of game on the one hand, and of the increase and spread of fruit cultivation on the other hand.
In gardens and on allotments or small fruit plantations, recourse must be had to netting out the blackbirds as before detailed under thrush. Tanned netting, however, is costly, entailing an outlay of £10 per acre, which, with the extra labour involved, is a serious drawback in profitable fruit production. Sometimes it is necessary to employ netting over the ventilators in fruit houses, particularly cherry and orchard houses, and in some instances tomato houses, as from acquiring a taste of tomatoes on walls and in the open ground they enter glass structures, destroying much fruit by pecking as well as by devouring a considerable quantity. This taste for tomato fruit or berry appears to have been recently acquired, and passes through one generation to another, particularly in dry hot seasons. A few traps, properly baited and set on the ground under the plants outdoors, make an end of the pilferers.