Misguided Slaughter: German Crow-Killing Group Faces Growing Backlash

By Renate Nimtz-Koester

A group of fanatic bird killers in Germany known as "the Crowbusters" has been waging a war on the birds with military-grade weapons and crusader-like zeal. But their stated reasons for massacring these "feathered vermin" are unfounded, and their bloodthirstiness has irked even some hunting groups.

Members of a crow-killing group stand over the results of a hunt. (Faces have been intentially obscured.) Zoom

Members of a crow-killing group stand over the results of a hunt. (Faces have been intentially obscured.)

When trading stories about their shared hobby online, they use screen names like Harras, Foxfright, Pubhunter and Demonicus. As a group, though, they call themselves "the Crowbusters" -- because they love to shoot as many crows out of the sky as possible.

For these fanatics, no amount of exertion is too great for such a murderously good time. "Drove 1,651 kilometers (1,030 miles) in three great days, slept 6 hours," one of them brags online. "It was a hell of a lot of fun."

Of course, no one doubts that the crow hunters are a bit crazy. After all, they outfit themselves like members of an elite military unit about to head off to war, wearing fatigues and face masks and armed with semi-automatic rifles and decoys.

In an online forum operated by the German hunting magazine Wild und Hund ("Game and Dog"), owned by the Paul Parey publishing house, the Crowbusters discuss the overwhelmingly addictive sensation they experience while playing "crow pingpong." When one of them says on his mobile phone "Wait, here comes a crow … Boom! Boom!" the person on the other end of the line will wait a few seconds before saying "Pop! Pop!" as if to report that the crow had been hit.

Slaughters with Collateral Damage

The Crowbusters' kill rates are unusually high thanks to their military-grade equipment. During a hunt in the Upper Franconia region of Bavaria, the Crowbusters impressed local hunters by bringing down a total of 316 "crap-scratchers." Farmers, who don't like it when curious crows peck at the plastic covers on silage bales, had spread liquid manure on their fields to lure the birds.

The headline "80 Against Unlucky Raven" appeared in a Wild und Hund story describing the biggest crow hunt the publication had ever organized. The shootout in the sky took place last year in the Münsterland region of northwestern Germany, and it was broadcast live on the online forum of Wild und Hund.

By the end of the hunt, 333 crows lay dead, 80 percent of which were young birds. Six magpies also fell victim to the slaughter. In a hunt like this, says ornithologist Ulrich Mäck, it's almost impossible to avoid killing protected species, such as rooks and jackdaws. "Especially during the colder half of the year," he adds, "birds in the crow family tend to fly in mixed flocks."

Working on Faulty Assumptions

Of course, the hunters justify their crusade by pointing out that crows -- or what they sometimes refer to as "feathered vermin" -- attack young rabbits and partridges as well as steal eggs from the nests of other birds. The crow population has gotten out of hand, the hunters argue, and they blame the birds for reducing the stocks of small game and songbirds.

But the fact is that none of these claims holds water. As biologists have long known, the real culprit behind the decline of rabbits and larks is the agriculture industry, which creates farmlands that support few species and lack the natural hedges and copses in which birds and other animals can find protection. "So where are meadow birds supposed to live if there aren't any real meadows anymore?" asks Mäck, the ornithologist.

Indeed, according to Stefan Garthe, a vice president of the German Ornithological Society and professor of bird ecology at the University of Kiel, the increased cultivation of corn and rapeseed to be used as renewable-energy sources will only hasten the decline of ground-nesting birds and songbirds.

Myth-Busting

The claim that crow populations are too large is also untrue. "These are subjectively felt numbers," says Mäck, who used to work as an assessor for Germany's Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN). Since open fields are becoming less and less suitable as habitats, rooks and carrion crows are migrating to cities. This, in turn, makes the people living there more aware of their presence.

In other words, the large-scale shooting of crows does absolutely nothing to help rabbits and partridges. Already in 2005, Klaus Pohlmeyer, then a wildlife biologist at Hanover's University of Veterinary Medicine and the head of the hunting association in the northwestern German state of Lower Saxony, had about 12,000 carrion crows caught and killed as part of a study examining the effects of reducing crow populations. Results of the study showed no increase in small game populations despite the massive reduction in crow numbers.

"If we wanted to give the endangered bird species an advantage by hunting their predators," says Mäck, the ornithologist, "we would have to remove all the predators from entire areas." Doing a thorough job, he explains, would mean getting rid of all the "hedgehogs, squirrels, martens and cats."

Fighting Back against the Crowbusters

Of course, this wouldn't occur to even the most trigger-happy hunters, since they would prefer to cultivate the image of crows as ravenous foes. But, biologists say, in doing so, they are training their gun sights on birds that might have a level of intelligence comparable to that of some primates.

"I've never experienced such feverish hunting of a particular species, not even when it comes to foxes," says Johann Beuke, a 56-year-old resident of Twistringen, a town in Lower Saxony, and a member of Germany's ÖJV ecological hunting association. According to Beuke, crow populations are particularly threatened by the fact that many German states have bowed to hunter pressure by virtually eliminating hunting off-seasons. In doing so, they are contravening not only an EU directive on the conservation of wild birds, but also Germany's Animal Protection Act. In an attempt to put a stop to what Beuke calls "extermination campaigns," the ÖJV has teamed up with Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) and the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU).

These large-scale killing sprees are even too much for some conservative hunters. Harry Neumann, a local BUND representative, convinced Klaus Skowronek, the head of a hunting club in the western German Westerwald mountains, to no longer allow the Crowbusters to hunt in the region. "As far as we're concerned, this area is now a no-go," Skowroneky says, adding that he finds "crow pingpong distressing."

Even the conservative German Hunting Association (DJV) has recently decided that the "excesses" and "questionable images" associated with the Crowbusters' actions could hurt the image of hunting in general. In late February, the association plans to address the problem of these marauding crow killers.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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1.
resuam 01/27/2012
I have read your article and must say that if it had been researched properly, it could have been a basis for discussion, but in it's current "do gooder" style it is just populism of the worst kind. To clearify: I am a hunter and I know this type of hunt, allthough I have not participated in one. The main issue I have is the characterisation of the so called crowbusters and your unfortunately non existent technical knowledge. First: For hunting crows or any bird in the way described you do not use a rifle as stated in the article but a shot gun. Please research the difference next time. Wikipedia is a good source. These are two completely different types of guns. Second: There are various types of shot guns used, over/under, side by side, Pump or Semi Automatic. These are not military grade as you write but the most commen shot gun types used all over the world. Third: When hunting, you need to camouflage yourself. The cleverer the species the more camouflage is needed. There is nothing wrong with that, except the Germans "Angst" about anything that could remind one of the past. Other countries have no isssue with this clothing, but maybe Lederhosen and Lodenmantel would be more to the peoples taste. Fourth: Your quotation of scientists is extremely one sided and not unexpectedly populist. These are the times for that, but one would expect, that a good journalist does his research in all directions, and not only in the one that she or he feels personally comfortable with. Fifth: The DJV is not representative for the hunter community in Germany, neither is the ÖJV. They would like to believe that, but they are oudated and oulived. Sixth: No laws have been broken. Seventh: I forgot to mention the nowadays main German mantra. "What I don't like you cannot do".
2. @resuam
McGhee 01/30/2012
If you are really a hunter your access to any weapons should be strictly prohibited. What those idiots do is nothing else but slaughter. And of course that leads to an one-sided argument of all scientist who are a bit more familiar with ornithology than you and your deranged group of friends. You should know that the main reason for the regress of rabbits and larks are in fact the humans. So in your opinion we should start hunting ourselves? If so, I say let's start with these people.
3. Crows
rvaronsohn 04/05/2014
I have noticed that the majority of the folks who oppose crow hunting spend no time in the great outdoors. Most are city types who need to be on some kind of crusade to give there rather dull lives meaning. These people only react to emotion in regard to hunting crows. I always hear the word "slaughter" when they are finding fault with crow hunting. If they think killing animals and birds is wrong, then to use there logic then plants and row crops like corn & soybeans must have feelings too? So I recommend that if they are true to there cause they should give up eating, after all the tomatoes scream in horror when they are cut from the vine LOL. If these folks eat beef, pork, chicken or lamb they too are contributing to "slaughter" only there hands are clean because someone else does it for them! Crows are no saints, they carry off young fledgling song birds out of there nests only to tear them to pieces to feed there own young. They do the same to young waterfowl and upland game birds as well. They also thrive on turtle eggs. Crows will never follow the same fate as the Passenger Pigeon because Passenger Pigeons were dunces compared to crows. Crows are far to smart to stick around if there is to much hunting pressure put on them. It is a good conservation tool to thin there ranks, not exterminate them!
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