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Certificates of merits handed over | Coastweek

Typical nest and aggressive male of the species. The Indian house crow (Corvus Splendens) is a major pest of agriculture, raiding crops such as wheat, maize and sunfower. It causes severe damage to vegetables and fruit crops including mango, guava, pawpaw and cashew nuts. The house crow will attack and can kill poultry, new-born calves and kid goats. Adult livestock are harassed and can be injured. In some countries the house crow is considered a major pest of the environment, preying on the chicks and eggs of native birds, destroying nests and harassing birds and other animals. Some native birds in Kenya have been completely displaced by the introduced house crow. PHOTOS - WIKIPEDIA

'Where no Crows caw': Welcome demise of 'Corvus Splendens'

VIPINGO RIDGE, Kenya North Coast -- Some years ago I penned an agonizing story for this publication decrying how Kenya’s Coastal bird-life was in danger of being totally decimated by that hideous alien invader, the migrant Indian House Crow (Corvus Splendens), writes Duncan Mitchell.

My frustrations largely stemmed from the sheer indifference toward this cancerous menace exhibited both by the Kenyan wildlife authorities who should be the forefront in the elimination of House Crows, and the ordinary Coast dwellers, who casually accept that it is a 'Given Right' for these dirty and disease carrying House Crows to destroy our beautiful fellow creatures.
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Total elimination of the House Crow is now a huge, almost impossible task.

I believe the Ministry of Agriculture once worked with a UN body to check the crows as they were (even then) a major threat to semi-rural chicken farmers, plucking baby chicks from the runs and pecking the eyes of defending mother-hens.

Sadly, this initiative died a premature death for some reason and the bludgeoning crow population just bounced back (in fact got bigger).

The struggle by farmers to keep their chickens alive continues.

Thriving amidst human garbage, the crow now has a clear pathway along the new railway, all the way to the big prize, Nairobi.

They are already in Voi, and in a couple of years I predict Nairobians will awaken to the rasping, snarling caw of this loathsome bird, amidst the honk and blare of its infamous 'matatus'.

 

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VIPINGO RIDGE, Kenya North Coast -- Best coastal professional Bird Guides Kelvin Maseras [left] and Samson Mrengi. PHOTO - DUNCAN MITCHELL
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When we first moved to new Vipingo Ridge Golf Estate, 40 kms north of Mombasa, it was as though the Indian Crow had just discovered the acres of lovely cropped lawn were full of easy pickings… army-warms, earth-worms, the crow 'scoffed' them all.

Then the Beast started nesting amongst the indigenous bird-life.

Bird song disappeared; local birds cowered deep in the thickest bush, making not a sound.

To be discovered by crows would mean an agonizingly cruel death. Their nests were ruthlessly hunted out and eggs or chicks swiftly devoured.
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Whole colonies, such as the Golden Palm Weaver were wiped out, destroyed, gone forever.

We set crow-traps, eliminating up to 150 crows a month, but still they kept flying on their murderous missions.

Then we started an initiative with the Ridge golf caddies.

Many of these active young men only work a single golf round or three during the week and had plenty of time on their hands.

We offered a cash incentive for each and every Crow Egg destroyed.

It worked but slowly … I think the caddies initially simply could not believe anyone could be that dumb to offer good money for useless crow eggs.

One young caddy, Fred Otieno, saw the potential and started turning up with 20 to 30 mottled-blue crow eggs almost every day.

 

Golden Palm Weaver (Ploceus bojeri) WIKIPEDIA PHOTO | Coastweek

Golden Palm Weaver (Ploceus bojeri) doing some urgent repairs with his nest. PHOTO - WIKIPEDIA
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His mates, seeing his new found wealth, followed suit …instead of hanging around the Caddy Shack waiting to carry golf bags they went on the hunt for crow’s nests.

Soon a veritable market in crow-eggs was taking place outside the Shack.

In a remarkably short time the overall effect was suddenly glaringly obvious.

There were no Indian House Crows hanging around the golf course and the adjacent houses.
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No harsh nasal bleating, no scenes of lonely overhead hawks being chased by marauding crow packs.

Sure, there were (and still are) what we call the ‘over-flies’; passers-by, stopping for an opportunity feed.

These groups, led by an alpha-female, are usually enticed into the still operating crow traps.

Now leaderless, the remaining crows fly on with no discernable pattern, usually well away from Vipingo Ridge.

Early in August of this year we conducted a timed bird-count, the number of indigenous birds within Vipingo Ridge Estate logged in 24 hours… crucially, immediately after the crow population had been drastically reduced.

As our onslaught of the Ridge crow will be continuous, in a year’s time we will do an identical survey.

 

VIPINGO RIDGE, Kenya North Coast -- Ace crow-egg hunter Fred Otieno. PHOTO - DUNCAN MITCHELL
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Hopefully by then the hard-pressed resident bird-life will have regenerated. Of course this includes the crows’ other helpless victims; bats, chameleons, butterfly-caterpillars etc.

Two professional bird guides were engaged for the bird count; Messrs Kelvin Mazeras and Samson Mrengi, both highly experienced and respected Coast bird-watchers.

After 24 hours they jubilantly reported back, announcing that; "Vipingo Ridge was the Coast’s new birding hot-spot!"
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Their 24 hour count (daylight hours only) was a total of 93 types birds.

To top their success they had had no less than three separate sightings of the rare and beautiful Narina Trogan. (Later exploration found a Narina Trogan sitting on a nest of three eggs)

Other positive indications were a Greater Sparrow Hawk nest with two chicks and the return of a pair of African Pied Crows … mortal enemies of the Indian House Crow.

Combined with my List of Vipingo Ridge Birds compiled over nearly seven years (by self and other birders) this brings the total number of different birds seen at Vipingo Ridge to 184.

We are confident our next year survey will produce a count of over 250, almost a quarter of Kenya’s 1,100 estimated bird species.

Our battle with the Indian House Crow has not been won, it is a temporary hiatus.

 

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Narina trogon (Apaloderma narina) WIKIPEDIA PHOTO | Coastweek

The Narina trogon (Apaloderma narina) is a medium-sized (up to 34 cm long), largely green forest bird in the Trogonidae family. PHOTO - WIKIPEDIA
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Just outside the Estate fence the hordes gather, daily making forays into our domain and the fight goes on.

But for now, within the Ridge, there is the gentle chorus of sweet and undisturbed bird-song.

Combatting the crow menace is not cheap.

Vipingo Ridge crow egg-hunters must be promptly and well rewarded for risking thorns, snakes, dizzy heights and other dangers (including physical attacks by irate crows).

An appeal for funds went to all Vipingo Ridge Plot Owners and the response from some (certainly not all the plot owners) was gratifying.
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Many Coast residents (including those at Vipingo Ridge) are completely apathetic toward the dominant house crow population…this mainly stems from ignorance of the very real threat this monstrous bird represents.

Foremost, it must be remembered that the Indian House Crow does not belong to Africa …

It was introduced here by huge mistake and has capitalized on its ability to live in proximity to humans, its extreme intelligence, its hardiness and its ability to produce between 3 and 5 young twice per year, makes the Indian Crow a formidable foe!

It is only when the some responsible Government agency engages with an NGO with crow elimination wherewithal that the problem can properly be tackled and Kenya’s unique heritage of wonderful birds be made safe.

 

African Goshawk (Accipiter tachiro) WIKIPEDIA PHOTO | Coastweek

African Goshawk (Accipiter tachiro). PHOTO - WIKIPEDIA
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