Corvid breeding biology


If we know more about corvid behaviour, we may be able to minimise the damage they cause to song and other small bird populations.


This research looked at:

  • their behaviour and diet

  • their susceptibility to trapping

  • their habitat use

  • their territorial behaviour

This research aimed to answer questions such as:

  • How does the magpie population as a whole relate to songbird nest success?

  • Do individual magpies differ in their impact on songbirds?

    By increasing understanding of magpie predation of songbird nests, this work will help inform more effective and better-targeted countryside management to benefit Britain’s threatened songbirds.

This PhD studentship was funded jointly by SongBird Survival and University of Exeter, in conjunction with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) commencing in 2014.

Corvids are well established as predators of nests of songbirds at the egg and nestling stage, yet relatively little is known about the natural history and behaviour of the predatory corvids (primarily carrion crows and magpies), especially in relation to their predatory behaviour in rural landscapes in the UK and susceptibility to control methods.

Large scale analyses of relationships between population trends of corvids and songbirds do not show the expected negative relationship, and the experimental removal of corvids or the cessation of corvid control has mixed effect on songbird productivity.

One explanation for this confused picture is that particular individuals or guilds of corvids are disproportionately prolific nest predators. Large numbers of corvids may be removed, but if these ‘super-predators’ are not amongst them, then an increase in productivity may not be seen. Alternatively, if the ‘super-predators’ are amongst the small numbers of corvids removed, then a large increase in productivity may be observed despite a small change in gross corvid number.

This project has reached the end of its research period and the results are being written up for publication.

Papers published:

Predation of artificial nests in UK farmland by magpies
Lucy A. Capstick, Rufus B. Sage, Joah R. Madden 
2019. European Journal of Wildlife Research 65-50

Researcher profile:

Dr Lucy Capstick

Lucy holds a Biological Sciences degree from the University of Oxford, and a master’s degree in Conservation from University College London.

Her previous research has looked semi-natural grassland meadow restoration, and the development of agricultural practices over the 20th century and their relation to changes in grey partridge populations.

Her PhD project looked at the breeding, ranging and foraging behaviour of rural magpies and their effect on songbird productivity. More broadly she is interested in how animal behaviour research can be applied to conservation problems.

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