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Magpies: The Need for Control

Magpies are despised by almost everyone - owing to being wrongly blamed for the widespread decline in many of our songbirds by preying on their eggs and nestlings. In fact, many of our songbirds are in decline owing to poor survival rates after leaving the nest, which has nothing to do with the Magpies. Also, Jays are responsible for taking as many eggs and nestlings as the Magpies, but do so less conspicuously and therefore without the same level of blame.

Ecological studies of Magpies show that they are largely omnivorous and only a small fraction of their diet comprises the eggs and nestlings of other birds. However, this can be misleading for two reasons: firstly, it reflects diet over the whole year and obviously bird eggs and nestlings are only available to the Magpies in spring and early summer and secondly, beetles and grubs are more common than birds' eggs, so the relative effect of the Magpie's predatory behaviour is likely to be more significant on songbirds than on insects. What one needs are not studies of Magpie diet but of the effect of Magpie predatory behaviour. Attempts to do this have come mainly from the British Trust for Ornithology. One of these showed that the breeding numbers and nesting success of songbirds could not be associated with increasing Magpie numbers - the scientists concluded that Magpies were not affecting songbird numbers. A more recent study did, however, show that losses of eggs and nestlings of blackbirds and song thrushes are higher, on average, in parts of the country where Magpies are common.

These studies were based on correlation and inference rather than on, scientifically more powerful, experiment. Some partially experimental data from The Game Conservancy Trust farm at Loddington, in our neighbouring county of Leicestershire. Here, between 1993 and 2001, Magpies on the farm were culled each spring and the nesting success and breeding numbers of the songbirds was monitored. There were two important findings: firstly, nesting success was highest when Crow and Magpie numbers were low, and secondly, many of the songbirds increased in abundance over this period. For the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species, targeted by the government for conservation action, the increases included Song thrush 357%; Spotted flycatcher 75%; Bullfinch 100%; Linnet 150% and a general index of all the nationally declining farmland birds showed that on the Loddington farm they increased.

What of Magpie numbers? The generally accepted population information is from as long ago as 1988-91 when the British Magpie population was estimated at 590k pairs - about double what it had been in the 1970s. There is every indication that the Magpie population has remained fairly consistent. For more current information, the most recent Big Garden Birdwatch in January 2015 was undertaken by 323,291 people across the UK with 210,214 results submitted and 6,339,389 birds counted.

Countryman Pest Control Ltd has a Magpie Control Programme for every type of situation, domestic, commercial, or agricultural - with total quick elimination and ongoing prevention. From one off visits to full service contracts. All carried out by fully trained Pest Technicians - we can rapidly bring any infestation under complete control. Every situation of Magpie Control is different - and at Countryman Pest Control Ltd we always carry out a full survey of the premises before deciding on the best course of action. And and as always - the most cost effective solution will be advised. For your no obligation survey, give us a call today - our friendly staff are waiting to help.

National Pest Technicians Association The British Association for Shooting and Conservation