How can magpies be controlled?
There are three main methods: Shooting, poisoning and trapping – however trapping is by far the easiest.
But first clear your mind of everything you already know about catching magpies. Why? The magpies in New Zealand came from Australia and are a completely different species to European magpies. The only thing they have in common are similar markings, which is why America, Europe, Australia and the Pacific Islands all have birds called magpies, but are separate species. What you already ‘know’ about magpies mostly applies to European magpies, rather than the Australian magpies we have here.
So forget about call birds and shiny objects. The secret sauce for trapping success is using food to lure magpies into a trap. That's because a magpie's stomach is bigger than his brain.
What do magpies like to eat?
Anything fatty, such as beef dripping, butter, mutton fat and most especially Chefade cooking fat. They can be particular about what they like, and will usually ignore the common brands of dog-roll found in supermarkets – which shows magpies have good taste.
Where should the trap be set?
Choose an open paddock where magpies already feed on the ground, with a trail of bait laid in chunks (the size of a finger to the first knuckle) leading up to the trap, some bait just inside the entrance, and the last bait in the rear. Magpies are usually fairly quick to discover the food as the roam around the paddock and will then follow it into the trap. They prefer paddocks which have been grazed short.
What sort of trap is best?
You can trap magpies in just about any sort of trap. If you have a cheap & nasty Chinese cat trap, magpies usually have enough weight to set of the treadle. A traditional European style Larsen trap will work if it has side opening doors which are held open by split perches, but forget about using a Larsen trap with top opening doors. They are designed for European magpies rather than Australasian magpies – and Australian magpies are very reluctant to hop down into the trap compartments.
The best trap is the Magpie Trip Trap, which will trap two magpies at a time, is easy to set (with automatic triggers), is a nice compact size, and is robust & reliable. The compact compartments make it easy to reach in and remove magpies, compared to the longer length of a cat cage trap.
What prevents magpies getting trap shy?
Disposing of the magpies should be done out of sight from their mates. If you are clearing the trap during the day, take an old sheet and cover the trap. The captive magpie will quieten down and you can reach in under the sheet to remove him and wring his neck. Use a plastic bag to carry away the dead magpies, so the remaining magpies don't associate anything bad with the trap. Being descrete means entire flocks of hundreds of magpies can be eliminated, without any of them becoming shy and avoiding the trap.
How do you knock off magpies?
Magpies are easily handled, however a pair of light gloves is recommended as they do have sharp bits. Reach into the trap and grasp the magpie with one hand around its back and then use your other hand to wring its neck. They have surprisingly tough necks, so it takes a reasonable amount of strength. Another method is to use a small hammer, pressing the magpie onto the ground with the head & neck extended, then giving it a belt on the head. Some people give their magpies a swimming lesson in a trough. Avoid shooting the magpie in the trap. It will damage the trap and there’s a risk of dangerous ricochets.
What’s the story with call birds?
On rare occasions a call bird can be useful, for when you have territorial nesting magpies with no obvious feeding ground. The captive magpie used as a call bird should be caught well outside your area, so the local magpies recognize it as a foreigner and fly down to attack it. The call bird should be housed in a cage, such as an old possum trap or a cat transport cage, mounted hard against the magpie trap. The attacking magpies will barge inside when they attack the intruder.
Using call birds is a lot of extra work – catching one from outside your area, keeping it fed, watered and protected from rain, plus some magpies make much better call birds than others. Unless you really need a call bird it’s not worth the bother.
How about mirrors?
Mirrors can be used to lure magpies into the trap, and the Full version Magpie Trip Trap comes with a set of mirrors for this reason. The magpies see their own reflection and go in for a closer look. However a 2014 trapping trial revealed that using food bait as a lure caught 10 times as many magpies as using mirrors alone. So food bait is still the best lure.
What about shooting and poisoning magpies?
Magpies are smart and quickly become gun shy, unless you have a convenient concealed spot you can shoot from with a silencer. But even then they will eventually avoid that good shooting zone, which is not much use if the magpies shift to an open paddock and you can’t get near them. The old joke about magpies be able to recognize your rifle calibre and sit just out of range has more than a grain of truth. Shooting magpies can be sporting and fun, but it can take up a lot of time and needs good marksmanship.
Poisoning can be effective against large flocks, but it requires several days of preparation, the right weather and extra people to help. The poison used is alphachloralose paste, a narcotic that knocks the magpies unconscious rather than killing them outright. Magpies quickly sleep off the effects in warm weather, so the best time to poison is early in the morning on a cold day. You’ll need people to quickly run around and knock off the unconscious magpies before they recover. You must also pre-feed for a few days with a non-toxic paste spread on pieces of bread, so the magpies are accustomed to food being laid out for them. The pre-feed should be laid at the same time every day (at the time you will poison) and by the same person. When poison day finally arrives the magpies will be lined up ready to gobble down the alphachloralose, and you’ll get the maximum hit. The magpies which don’t succumb are likely to be poison shy afterwards.
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Copyright Neale Blaymires 2015