Country diary: the psychology of seeing off those thieving pigeons | Environment

Appearances aside, true peace is elusive here. The A1, just over a rise, keeps the background away from silence most days. It’s subtle, like an endless exhale, and you don’t notice it’s there – but you notice when it’s not. Sunday mornings come close. Then, you register other sounds. Different sounds. More deliberate. Designed to scare.

I walk the lane that leads to a low amphitheatre of farmland four miles wide, and I hear one: a distant crack, softly reverberating. Sometimes they are dull and boxy, echoless, like a finger flicked against cardboard. Sometimes they sound like cannon, and bounce around the landscape’s shallow folds.

Bird scarers are interesting. They’re battle tactics, as old as agriculture, that examine reflexive responses and enemy psychology across species borders. Consider the thinking behind anti-crop-picker methods: from scarecrows to plastic owls and herons (static, or with moving heads for sharper foes). From plastic bottles on windmills to “terror eyes” balloons to lasers to propane-powered bangers that pierce the Sunday silence. There are laws on these last, but not many: four bangs an hour are allowed, only during daylight and as loud as you want. The bang isn’t just to make the birds jump, I’ve read. They are meant to sound like guns, because birds know what guns do.

That intelligence is critical. Here by the dry-stone wall of the lane I’m surrounded by wispy-winged bugs of some sort – odd, on such a cold day – too instinctive to be bothered by anything. Yet in the field there is a kite. Not a child’s kite: a decoy kite. The silhouette is unambiguous. The splay tail and hard angle of the wings make it a ringer for the red variant, reintroduced and thriving around here.

It’s a strange feedback loop. Plastic, masquerading as a species driven out by farmers in the first place – now re-abundant for real. I wonder if the fake kite is putting the real ones off; two wood pigeons nibbling this field seem to be banking on it. Not long after, I hear the bang again. The pigeons don’t move. I take a step toward them and they take flight. Maybe they’re smarter than we give them credit for.

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