On a recent trip to the Outer Hebrides, I inadvertently spent the night in a campervan with a captured crow for company. The bird was not in the van, lest you’re wondering, but trapped in a cage on the edge of the moor. The wild bird, or Larsen trap, is quite legal, and supposedly humane – the trapped bird must have shelter, water, food and a perch. But there was nothing humane in seeing a caged bird die.
The traps are supposed to be checked at least every 24 hours, and I have no reason to suppose that the person who set the trap did not do so. I wonder as to the efficacy of such interventions in the course of the natural world. Sometimes members of the corvine clan are caught for research, sometimes to avoid decimation of the songbird population, and sometimes because they affect the livelihood of estates. I don’t know why this particular bird was caught, but it was scared and alone. One moment it was cawing in the dawn, and the next it was dead.
Larsen Traps were designed by a Danish gamekeeper (Larsen) in the 1950s, but are now banned in that country because the traps are viewed as inhumane for trapping magpies and crows. Recent research has indicated that corvines are particularly intelligent, and for any intelligent animal being caged can never be humane.
I know people will always have arguments to support such activity, and rural poverty will always get my sympathy, but I can’t help feeling that this poor animal was a victim of the profit principle – protecting game bird young from the natural predation by crows and magpies. I suppose that crows are not in decline, and need no protection, but they have young too; maybe a crow family has starved to death whilst its parent died of terror in the bottom of a cage.
I can’t help feeling that there’s not much humanity in murdering a crow, indeed, any creature, and that with artificially high numbers of game birds in the countryside the odd captured crow isn’t really going to make much difference. As usual our interventions upset the balance of nature, whether we support or decry her.
I toyed with the idea of releasing the bird and risking ‘mischief with intent’ but decided that I did not know enough about why it was there to intervene. I wish now I had let it go.