When doves cry

When Prince wrote his chart-topping song, When Doves Cry, he had relationship woes in mind, not agricultural drama. The doves (and pigeons) here at Seven Trees Farm cry incessantly, but it must be out of joy in the bounty they find to pillage. Given the constant “boo-hoo boo-hoo” heard from various vantage points on our place, we assumed our visitors were native mourning doves. After noticing two different types of doves cleaning up spilled sunflower seeds under the wild bird feeder, we did a bit more research. It turns out that we do indeed have a resident mourning dove (we usually just see one), and also a pair of Eurasian collared doves, very recent invaders from South Asia via the Middle East and most recently, the Bahamas.

A marauding Eurasian ring-neck dove.
A marauding Eurasian ring-neck dove.

This year we decided to plant sweet corn and green peas, and we’ve had a tough time keeping the flying rats at bay. Not only do they dig out newly planted seeds, they also yank seedling plants out by the roots, necessitating a few rounds of replanting that will lead to scattered harvest times for the crops. We tend to only plant enough seed to grow, assuming each seed performs as expected. Our English ancestors, who lived for centuries along side dove and pigeon pests, played it safe. An old rhyme sums up their seed-sowing tactic: One for the rook, one for the crow, one to rot, one to grow.

Birds scavenging newly-planted grain.
Birds scavenging newly-planted grain.

The earliest known examples of dove-keeping in England occur in Norman castles of the 12th century. During the medieval period large dovecotes were built on manors, at castles and monasteries. The right to build a dovecote was traditionally reserved to the lord of the manor, and was presumably much resented by tenant farmers as the lord’s doves could eat their weight in corn every day. The law did permit farmers to frighten birds away from the freshly-planted fields, and young children were commonly employed as ‘bird-scarers’.

A young boy with wooden clapper to scare birds.
A young boy with wooden clapper to scare birds.

Eventually the laws relaxed and dovecotes became more common. Many inns had a small tower-shaped dovecote in their yards to provide guests with a ready supply of tasty young pigeons known as squab.

Tavern servants collecting squab for a guest's dinner.
Tavern servants collecting squab for a guest’s dinner.

We’ve joked about getting a pellet gun or wrist rocket so we can try squab for ourselves, but haven’t yet. There are plenty of recipes, both historic and modern. Mrs. Beeton, of Victorian-era household management fame, not only shares a variety of cooking methods, but also advice and information about various pigeon & dove breeds and how to raise them. The Squab Producers of California website has a more trendy take on these little birds.

Bird-scaring has also undergone modernization in recent times.

A Suffolk helicopter pilot has come up with a high-tech solution in the battle to protect oil seed rape from birds.

The crop is a favourite with pigeons so Richard Maddever, 27, has being trying out flying a drone to keep the flocks at bay on the family farm near Sudbury. pigeon drone

He says he thinks it is going to catch on.

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