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.
For eight or nine months of the year this bird feeds solely on snails, slugs, worms and ground insects, wild fruits and roots, such as the "cuckoo pint," in severe weather. Only when garden and fruit plantation fruits are ripening does it become a nuisance. Reared in shrubberies, hedges, thickets, and woods, the birds leave as soon as fit to journey for the purpose of obtaining food, and the supplies of animal food being restricted by season, they betake themselves to a frugivorous dietary. Thus they find out the strawberries in gardens and fields as soon as the berries change colour for ripening, and follow on with currants, gooseberries, raspberries, etc. Great numbers may be killed, yet fresh arrivals take the place of the slaughtered birds. Truly there is migration from the breeding places to the fruit quarters, as there also is from these as soon as the fruit crops are cleared to the shrubberies and woods. Of course, there is a thrush migration from one part of the country to another, many parts of the kingdom being almost bereft of song thrushes from October to the end of January, while there is a considerable immigration in the autumn on our east coast by birds coming from Northern Europe; the latter, however, after a short sojourn, mostly departing accompanied by many home-bred birds, while some mate and remain in Britain. Notwithstanding the migrations song-thrushes are to be found in gardens, copses and woods the year round, charming with song betimes in autumn and winter, and rapturously pouring forth their melody in spring.
In shrubberies, thickets and woods, thrushes are reared that devastate the fruit crops. No real provision is made for keeping them there, and no restriction placed on their undue increase. Bird-nesting is forbidden by law, fruit-growers naturally say in the interest of the game-preserver, and the "wild bird's protector" who has no fruit upon which depends his livelihood for the birds to devour, while the national taste is not for thrush-shooting as in Belgium, France, and Germany, where it begins on August 12, the birds being esteemed for the table, and their arrival in certain districts regarded with much interest, for they are easily ensnared. Possibly Britons may acquire like taste, and fruit-growers in fields and fruit plantations recoup themselves for the damage done to the fruit crops by killing the birds and disposing of them as food. This, however, is very remote; therefore, fruit-growers must take stringent measures to safeguard their crops of fruit from the pecking and devouring birds.
Bird-minders must have gun licences, costing 10s., and so must the fruit-farmer if he intends to scare or shoot birds, as no one is allowed to carry firearms without a licence. But bird-scaring is of very little use. The birds soon become accustomed to the report of a gun, and while the scarer is at one end of a plot of strawberries extending to acres, the birds are pecking vigorously at the other. Even shooting is an expensive procedure, as it means shooting on the wing, and then there is much damage done in spite of the gunner or gunners. The best thing is trapping.
The Common Rat-Trap (Fig. 99), either with round or square jaws, preferably the latter, is excellent, a partly ripe strawberry being secured by its stalk to the table, and the trap outside the row of plants so as to be easily seen,
No concealment is needed or any covering, but it is advisable to secure the trap by a string to a peg.
Fig. 99. - Common Rat Trap (round-jaw pattern).
(Supplied by Mr. H. Lane, Eagle Works, Wednesfield, Staffordshire.)
The traps, Fig. 102, should be first placed on the strawberry-beds and mainly on the outside rows, or round the plantation, as the " first seen, first taken," and not more distantly apart than 9 feet. Thus a gross of traps would be required for an acre, which (for the best quality trap, always the most serviceable) entails an outlay of nearly £10. In these traps, seen to early and late, probably 3,000 birds may be destroyed in a season, the traps being shifted from the strawberry beds to under the currant, gooseberry and raspberry bushes, then under apple, pear and plum trees, baiting in each case with the respective fruits. Of course, the traps act equally well for blackbirds as thrushes, which are more prone to continue their depredations.
In gardens thrushes and blackbirds are usually excluded from cultivated fruits by netting, old, repaired, herring nets being generally employed. Provided the netting be holeless and at such distance from the fruit that the birds cannot peck it, no harm ensues. But we have found that herring net placed on strawberry-beds without support other than the leafage was only partial in protecting the fruit, for the birds alight on the net, press it down by their weight and peck the fruit, spoiling it wholesale. In such cases we have had recourse to trapping, a couple of dozen traps properly worked " making-end" of 500 birds in a season.
Fig. 100. - Foster's Fruit Protector. (Supplied by Messrs. Boulton & Paul, Norwich.)
To keep the netting from the fruit so that birds cannot peck it various contrivances are had recourse to, such as stakes driven into the ground and strong laths placed along the top of them. These are cumbersome and not always readily obtainable. Foster's Fruit Protector (Fig. 100) is very neat and made in sizes suitable for strawberries, currants and gooseberries, and raspberries, the two latter admitting the fruit being gathered by persons under the netting. The whole can be readily fixed and taken down, and is useful in other ways when not required for protecting fruit.
Fig. 101. - Permanent Method of Wiring in Fruit Gardens. (Supplied by Messrs. Boulton & Paul, Norwich.)
For protecting buds and bloom from birds and frost and fruit whilst ripening, some proprietors of gardens indulge in what are known as "fruit cages," either by means of hurdles or a simple method of straining wires (Fig. 101), enclosing with bird-proof wire-netting, some only using the latter for the boundaries of the enclosure and string netting on top, while others employ bird-proof wire-netting on both the sides and top. The former mode admits of birds exercising their insectivorous habits in all but the bud and bloom-protecting time and that of the fruit ripening; while the other method entirely excludes the birds. What are the results of the two methods, it may be queried? The most pronounced is that the string-netting top affords the best protection to the blossom, admits of insectivorous birds aiding in preventing attack of pests by destroying their eggs, and other hibernating forms, and also in clearing the bushes and trees of infesting hosts. But as regards infection by insects, the wire-netting top enclosure, consequently total exclusion of birds, subjects are not more infested by insects than those in the string-netting top, and in both repressive measures have to be taken to prevent and subdue them promptly, otherwise considerable damage will be done to the bushes and trees.
Fig. 102. - The Blackbird Trapped.
Thus we learn that sole reliance upon natural aids in respect of cultivated crops is a delusion, inasmuch as in most cases birds do not begin to work until the pests have committed considerable damage, and in not a few instances do not cope effectively with the insect ravages so as to save the crop from ruin. Except, therefore, in wild or semi-wild, or no "repressive measures" quarters, the good birds do appears to be much overrated, similar remarks applying to ladybirds and their larvae, the lacewing fly and ichneumon fly, all of which destroy the insect fees of crops.