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.
In the woods and fields this bird is faultless. In winter it hunts amongst the boughs and twigs of trees and in hedges for woolly aphis (we have known it clear badly-infested crab hedge-plants of this pest), crab-blossom weevil, aphis eggs, thrips, moths - their eggs, larvae, pupae or chyrsalis, scale, insect eggs, spiders, also their eggs, including spinning mites, or so-called red spiders; pulls half-expanded buds of crab, wild pear, cherry, and bullace buds to pieces in order to get at the recently hatched-out insects, and some say "bigbud" on hazel invaded by phytopti, thus assuming the blue titmouse has microscopic eyes. In summer it eats the caterpillars of the magpie and various other moths, grubs of wood-loving insects, maggots in the round galls on oak, and caterpillars that feed on Britain's predominating monarch of trees - the oak. What a boon to the forester, and to the farmer no harm unless growing sunflower seed for poultry feeding; then it takes to the ripening fruit of this plant before everything else.
In the orchard and fruit plantation it is very assiduous in its attentions to apple, pear, cherry, and plum trees, even the gooseberry, currant, raspberry and blackberry, scrutinising them for pests, most of which are also common on wildlings of the same species of plants before named, even taking the moths from the grease bands on the trees, and making end of codlin moth larvae or pupae.
On the other hand, it is said to do serious damage to cherries, which we have not observed during fifty years' experience; but it has a decided appetite for green peas, particularly when a brood is near by, and the weather hot and dry, while it sometimes does serious damage by pecking the sweeter and choice apples and pears near the stalks. It also clears ripening sunflower heads of the seeds, and, not least, sometimes eats bees in winter-time, also pulling straws out of thatch in order to get insects or grain.
In order to protect apples and pears fruit-growers should grow sunflowers in their plantations, and to ripen the seed in advance of fruit, thus alluring the blue and also the great titmouse from it. This has been known since the time of Gilbert White, the tits' liking of sunflower seed being mentioned in the Natural History of Selborne, first published in 1789. This also applies as regards green peas, it being extremely difficult to net the blue titmouse out, and as for killing it means the destruction of a large brood of young birds; besides, the onslaught on peas is confined to this necessity so far as we have observed. To protect choice apples and pears recourse may be had to the Cloister Fruit Protector, which clasps the individual fruit by the stalk and protects it from the birds and other pests. The "protector" is sold by Messrs. Wm. Wood & Son, Wood Green, London.
If the blue titmouse becomes too numerous shooting may be necessary, always so as not to damage the fruit or other trees. In winter-time a few small bird-traps with the tables baited with a bit of fat meat each and placed on branches of trees, or the ground where they frequent for scraps from houses in severe weather, prove effective. Even the old-fashioned brick-trap, well known to all boys, properly baited, catches this and other small birds either alive or kills them at once. It (Fig. 98) is formed of four bricks, three on edge, two forming the sides (m) and one the end (n) and one stood on end to form the fall (0). A peg, about \ in. diameter and 3 in. long, is driven into the ground at the middle of the enclosure so as to stand an inch or so out of the soil (p), a forked stick chisel shaped at the thick end (q), and a stick for propping up the fall (r). For the blue titmouse the forked piece or table should be baited with a bit of fat meat, and for sparrows, starlings, etc., with breadcrust, the birds being enticed to a certain spot by scattering bits of bait there for a few days with the trap or traps unset.
Fig. 98. - Brick Bird Trap.
References: m, side bricks; n, end brick; 0, fall brick; p, peg driven into ground; q, table; r, prop.