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.
Under this term is included the ringdove or cushat and stockdove. Both are destructive to vegetable crops in gardens, fields, and woods. In gardens they feed upon the leaves of cauliflowers and other brassicas, tops of sprouting peas and sometimes ripening seed, and leaves of beets and lettuces. In the fields they feed upon young growths of clovers, peas, and vetches, also their seeds, young growths of turnip-tops, indeed most brassicas, and grain. In the woods they feed on acorns, beech-mast, seeds, buds, catkins of trees, and by their weight break the leaders of larch, silver fir, spruce, and other conifers, especially on the east coast by the immense flocks that arrive in winter from the Continent. These, although smaller, do most harm in woods and fields, often clearing a whole field of turnips or cabbage, etc., of their tops. Wood-pigeons are also said to eat cherries from green to ripe, and take gooseberries whole.
It is straining matters too far to say wood-pigeons are of no use and that they are entirely vegetarians, for their food, though mostly grains, seeds, and greenstuff, is varied with a dietary of mollusca, such as slugs, etc., and they also devour various weed-seeds, such as charlock, wild mustard, etc., along with wild herbage and roots. Of the latter mention may be made of the Pilewort (Ficaria ranunculoides), the crowfoot-like roots of which wood-pigeons bill out of the ground in winter and eat with great avidity; hence it has been advised to encourage this plant in the vicinity of gardens to prevent wood-pigeon depredations in winter.
Of the wood-pigeon's value in a pie and of importance to game preservers there is no question, being good as food and worth is. per brace. The close preservation of game implies encouragement of wood-pigeons and their serious increase in some districts. In Devonshire the farmers' wood-pigeon crusade resulted in 6,000 of these birds falling a prey to the gun in a season. This represents something more than £150 compensation for damage already inflicted, inasmuch as the crusade is a clear intimation to game preservers that wood-pigeons must be decreased in numbers, otherwise farmers recoup themselves for the losses incurred by their depredations on crops. The restriction by gun, however, except on trains, such as gamekeepers make in woods during hard weather in winter, and particularly during the shrouding of the ground in snow, is not very drastic, as the birds are singularly wary and not easy to come at within gun-range; even then a good shot is not always sure of killing and dropping on his ground. On a train in a wood as many as twenty-six wood-pigeons have been killed or wounded, so as to be captured, by one discharge of the gun.
This indicates the advantage of the train of the gamekeeper over the farmer at the latter's expense.
Fig. 112. - The Ringdove and Stockdove.
As trains are hardly feasible in fields owing to the difficulty of securing concealment for the gunner, the following method for capturing wood-pigeons may be adopted:
"In a small field, about 100 yards from the hedge, make an enclosure of wire-netting, say 20 ft. by 12 ft. and 6 ft. high, more or less netting also over top, with a door so constructed than when pulled by wire it easily drops shut. Sprinkle maize about door and close to inside for several days until pigeons come readily to feed, in the morning mostly, and have got accustomed to feed inside enclosure, then the watcher pulls wire and you bag the lot. Choose a field with a high hedge or other cover sufficient to hide the person who drops the door."
Obviously this trap would be improved by having a door at both ends and one or more at each side, and so contrived that when a catch or catches were liberated by one pull of the wire all the doors quickly drop shut. Possibly tanned netting affixed to portable iron standards - as employed for boundaries of lawn-tennis coverts and netted over top when about to catch, leaving open whilst baiting, the open ends being closed by the dropping of poles with netting affixed - would answer in places where concealment for the wire or cord-puller was present is provided.
Fig. 113. The Bristled Pea.
A gamekeeper advises the "bristled pea," Fig. 113, for capture of wood-pigeons by hand as follows: "Drill a hole through a pea, field-pea for preference, with a "bit" so fine as to make a hole through to admit a bristle and standing out on both sides about ¼-in. Steep the peas so prepared overnight in warm water, and the ends of the bristles not projecting more than 1/8-in., they are ready for use, otherwise shorten to that length. With a number of such bristled peas scattered on a train that has been well baited and the wood-pigeons accustomed to feed, the catcher awaits in ambush the coming of the birds. A wood-pigeon picking up a bristled pea tries to swallow it, when the bristle ends stick in the throat, and the bird is so anxious to get the pea up or down that the person in ambush may readily do the rest." Of this plan we have no experience, but the inventor vouches for its effectiveness, and it certainly has a "look" of usefulness for using in winter time in a turnip or cabbage-field to lessen the plague of wood-pigeons that reach Britain from the Continent.
On freshly-sown corn, the "bristled pea," or maize would probably be objected to by game preservers, also the spring trap, which is not allowed by law to be set in the open, though it frequently is, and all goes smoothly unless winged or ground game are victimized. In gardens, private or market, allotments, and small holdings, there is little dread of game being endangered, and even in fields it is very rare that either winged or ground game come to grief, apart from the game preserver's imaginary captures. Amongst fresh-sown corn or seed of any sort, and amongst young plants, wood-pigeons are perfect gourmands, and a stop, game or no game, must be put to their depredations. For this purpose we commend the Wire Spring Rabbit Trap (Fig. 114), with spring of medium strength.
The great consideration in connexion with the spring trap in this relation is the closing of the jaws, whether notched or flat, for if they close within an eighth of an inch, or quite close, the leg of the pigeon caught will simply be cut off and the bird will fly away. To obviate this, string may be bound round the jaws, each turn lying in a notch, tarred string being used. The trap called "Humane" with india-rubber ribbed covered jaws holds the leg without breaking it. Of course, if the plate of the trap is baited with some corn, the pigeon is caught by the neck and soon dies, so that the jaws of the trap are not of such importance as for leg trapping.
In newly-sown cornfields wood-pigeons usually make miniature clearings of circular form, the centre part being more divested of corn than the outer. Traps should be set about these clearings about 2 yards apart, and covered over with soil, hiding every part of trap, including the fastening. If baited about six grains of corn will need to be placed on the table, with a few here and there round about, though some trappers make a point of picking up grain within a yard of the trap.
When a bird is caught, the remainder not in the same predicament will take their departure with great promptitude. The traps should be visited about the middle of the forenoon and again as the day begins to wear off. If the wood-pigeons take to another part of the field, which is very unlikely, unless a large one, traps should be set there. Rooks may be trapped on newly-sown corn in the same way as wood-pigeons; but as they roam more about the field than the latter, the traps must be more widely distributed and more of them set. The traps should be baited so as to take the rook by the head, for when caught by the leg the bird does not stop struggling until away or dead. Nothing scares wood-pigeons and rooks so much as capturing a few of them in traps, so that when either or both are troublesome, trapping should be had recourse to in a similar way as on newly-sown corn, setting several traps at the outside of the centre or centres from which the birds work and near by the unpecked plants.
Fig. 114. - Lane's Wire Spring Trap set for Wood-pigeons.
But trapping in not a few cases is objected to under absurd conviction of game-preservers that only winged or ground game capture is the sole object of setting spring traps in the open; therefore, under such circumstances, recourse may be had to protecting young cabbage, cauliflower, and other brassica-plants, also peas and other legumes, with beets and other plants, the treated parts of which are not to be used for salad, or forage, or cooking, by spraying seedlings when springing and above ground, also newly-set plants, with Paris green, ½ oz. in paste form (Blundell's being the best make) and 2 oz. of quicklime slaked and formed into a milk with water and straining through a fine mesh sieve (to free it from undissolved particles likely to clog the spray-nozzle) into the vessel containing the Paris green paste diluted with a similar quantity of water as used for the "milk" of lime, stirring and adding I lb. of treacle dissolved in a gallon of water, then diluting to 12 gallons for use. If applied by a syringe with a spraying nozzle, an assistant should stir the mixture while the spraying proceeds, and for applying by a knapsack machine the mixture should be well stirred before charging it; then the action of the person and pump will keep the Paris green in suspension, this being all-important for an equal distribution of the poison on the foliage in the finest possible films.
If the mixture is made much stronger damage to the crop ensues. The treatment answers equally well against house sparrows attacking pea-plants when springing from the soil, also other vegetable crops; but the mixture must not be used on any plant that in the parts treated will be wanted for salads, cooking or forage for at least a month after treatment.