How can I make friends with crows

Corvids: Prejudices and Facts

The position of NABU

Corvids are gregarious, socially living songbirds with remarkable abilities. They are gifted with voices and can offer more than croaking vocalizations. Yet they are often not very popular.

Rook - Photo: Matthias Fichtner

Corvids are gregarious, socially living songbirds with remarkable abilities. They are gifted with voices and are able to offer more than croaking vocalizations. They have a natural “stop of reproduction”, they have a very varied diet and they help the forest and agriculture. Nevertheless, they are often not very popular: the croaking calls are annoying and do not sound very attractive. Corvids often appear in droves and seem to multiply unchecked. In summer, magpies in particular also feed on eggs and young birds of other species by plundering their nests. Nevertheless, the common prejudices against the corvids are unjustified, as scientific studies impressively prove.

Development of the corvidae population

The repeatedly claimed or feared overexploitation of corvids has been proven not to take place. Corvids show stable populations in many studies that by no means “grow into the sky”. They cannot do this either, because each habitat can only provide quarters, breeding grounds and food for a limited number of corvids.

In recent years, spatial shifts in the Elster can be observed in many places: The Elsters are decreasing in the open fields and prefer to settle in cities and on the outskirts of settlements. They are then observed more easily and more frequently there than outside. Their living space in the fields became less and less liveable due to drastic developments by humans (intensive agriculture, clearing of hedges and groups of trees, hunting). Settlements also offer a good supply of food (garbage, compost heaps, schoolyards.) And protection from enemies such as the hawk or the carrion crow, which like to rob magpies' nests. But even in the newly populated areas, the population of magpies can only grow up to a natural limit, but not get out of hand.

Corvids and songbirds

Rook - Photo: Ingo Ludwichowski

Corvids feed mainly on seeds and small animals. If eggs and young birds can be reached during the breeding season, they also perceive this source of food. However, they only make up a small proportion of the broad spectrum of food. A handful of eggs or young birds are also not very nutritious. Despite everything, corvids do not exterminate any other bird species! If their populations decrease, this is due to changes in the habitat. Many nests in gardens and grounds are also plundered by squirrels, martens and cats. Mainly common, widespread and not endangered songbirds such as thrushes, finches and pigeons fall victim to the corvids. These species have a high rate of offspring, which allows for natural feeding losses and compensates for them. A lost brood can also be replaced by a new clutch. In summer breeding birds, no general decrease by corvids was found. Cats or martens, on the other hand, often prey on adult birds.

Hunting corvids?

The call for "regulation" of the corvids is quick when magpies have emptied a bird's nest. However, there are a number of arguments against hunting.

  • In principle, every living being has a right to exist, even if it feeds on other species.
  • Killing occurs for no good ecological reason.
  • Common, widespread animal species cannot be regulated with the shotgun. In order to achieve a stock depletion, tens to hundreds of thousands would have to be shot.
  • Research shows that magpies do not gain weight in areas where hunting has been banned. In areas with intensive hunting, on the other hand, they try to compensate for the hunting-related losses with more offspring.
  • Hunting in inhabited areas is not possible for legal and safety reasons.

Too many corvids everywhere?

Corvids simulate an overpopulation through their natural behavior if one does not know the exact biological background:

  • Magpies always build several nests, but only breed in one of them. So not every magpie nest is used for breeding! According to our own counts, the ratio of occupied to existing nests in the greater Stuttgart area is 1: 10!
  • In autumn, rooks in particular come to us in large numbers from their northeastern breeding areas to overwinter here. The flocks of birds in winter do not correspond to the local population.
  • Many species of corvidae form mass roosting places from autumn to spring where many individuals from a large catchment area meet. Spending the night together has advantages: the birds are safer, they experience good feeding places and can find partners. In no case do the high numbers at the sleeping place correspond to the local population.
  • Corvids without breeding ground roam as noisy non-breeding groups. This "reserve force" can immediately close loopholes if a district owner dies or is shot down.

Are corvids bloodthirsty killers?

Corvids are by no means "bloodthirsty killers", but rather take care of the removal of carrion in the natural balance. That is why they fell into disrepute as gallows birds as early as the Middle Ages. If ravens, magpies or crows appear on a carcass today, they will be accused of murder.

Rooks - Photo: Ingo Ludwichowski

Common ravens and crows are even repeatedly suspected of deliberately killing young animals. But this has not been proven. At most, corvids can molest weak young animals and wait for death in the case of non-viable young animals. Long-term observations on the common ravens show that they are not killers in herds of sheep and suckler cows. Here, too, bird behavior was misinterpreted. The ravens, which are very capable of learning and adapt, recognized that there is an afterbirth to be “cleared” in grazing cattle and that young calves wean their feces when they stand up. In order to get to the nutritious young animal droppings, they specifically disturb young animals and provoke them to get up. Ravens learn such interesting behaviors through observation and imitation in order to use attractive food sources effectively.

Are corvids also "useful"?

Yes of course! Here are some examples:

  • Eurasian jays and pine jays establish new forests by hiding acorns or pine nuts in the ground. New forest trees are sprouting from the forgotten food depots.
  • Corvids like to eat carrion and have an important ecological function by eliminating dead animals.
  • Magpies build more nests than they need to breed. The vacant magpies nests then like to use other species such as kestrel and long-eared owl, which do not build their own nests.
  • Corvids like to eat caterpillars, mice, cockchafer and wireworms. They thus contribute to natural pest control in agriculture and forestry.

Legal background

Carrion crow - Photo: Michael Rüttiger

The common raven (Corvus corax) has been subject to hunting law since the Reich Hunting Act (RJG 1935) came into force; in continuation of the RJG, it was added to the list of huntable species in accordance with Section 2, Paragraph 1 of the Federal Hunting Act (BJagdG) of 1976.

With the EU Birds Directive (79/409 / EEC) of 1979, the European Union placed all songbird species, including magpie, carrion and jay, under full protection. The protection of magpie, carrion and jay in German law was only implemented in 1987 in adaptation to the EC bird protection directive.

Despite this clear legal situation with regard to corvids and their protection, the heated discussions between nature conservation, animal welfare and hunting continue, based almost exclusively on interest-driven misinterpretations of the decline in species in the cultural landscape.

In the meantime, however, the legal protection of the species has been changed again. In 1994, following massive pressure from the hunters, the three named corvid species were included in Annex II / 2 of the EC Birds Directive. Since then, in Germany, as in the other EU member states, hunting seasons can be issued for the species of jay (Garrulus glandarius), magpie (Pica pica) and carrion crow (Corvus corone). In contrast to other EU member states, Germany has so far not made use of this option under federal law.

The three species are therefore still subject to nature conservation and not hunting law in Germany. However, according to Article 9 of the EC Birds Directive and Section 43, Paragraph 8 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG), the nature conservation authorities can “prevent significant damage to agriculture, forestry, fishing, water and other public services” and “protect domestic Flora and fauna ”and for“ research, teaching, breeding ... ”exceptions for shooting or catching.

However, these exceptions are also restricted in accordance with Article 7 of the EU Birds Directive: The species must not be endangered by catching or shooting, hunting must not be carried out during the breeding season and marketing is prohibited. Even with these exemptions, the killing of the animals in accordance with § 1 and § 17 of the Federal Animal Protection Act (BTierSchG) must take place for a reasonable reason.

Current situation

In current practice, jays, magpies and carrion crows can, with a few exceptions, be “regulated”, ie killed or hunted, in all federal states, sometimes limited to certain species, under certain conditions (for example outside the breeding season). The number of corvids shot down has therefore multiplied in many areas of Germany in recent years. These measures are usually justified across the board with the protection of the native fauna and the averting of considerable agricultural damage. The alleged damage has never been scientifically proven, nor has it been a “success” in the sense of a re-blossoming biodiversity after the corvids have been killed or hunted.

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