Huge flocks of pigeons that have turned to grazing oilseed rape crops in recent weeks are prompting serious concerns among tillage farmers.

Kildare-based grower Helen Harris, who farms with her husband Pete outside Clane, said she had never before witnessed the size of the pigeon flocks that have invaded their oilseed rape crops of late.

“There are thousands of birds in these flocks. We had six or eight lads out shooting in the fields and they were knocking 130-150 birds a day,” Ms Harris said.

“But that has made no impression on the numbers. The pigeons are there 24-7. They just sit in the trees and wait for the boys to go.”

She said the birds had made landing strips out of bare patches in the crop. “They don’t want to get their wings wet,” she explained. Once in the crop they pick away at the small tender leaves.

Michael Hennessy of Teagasc said the oilseed rape crop would quickly recover from grazing by pigeons at this time of the year, as long as the root structure on the plant was strong enough and the birds did not manage to pull it from the ground.

However, growers might have to apply additional nitrogen to support subsequent foliage growth.

Meanwhile, Alex Copeland of Birdwatch Ireland said there was no firm evidence to suggest that pigeon numbers nationally had increased substantially.

Keogh’s crisps has become one of the most popular food brands in Ireland over the past few years, and it grew out of a potato farm in Dublin.

Mr Copeland said numbers had grown during the severe winters of 2010 and 2011 as a result of inward migrations from across northern Europe, but had subsequently reduced again.

However, he said the localised availability of feed from unharvested cereal crops might have boosted winter survival rates among juvenile birds and added to numbers in particular areas.

Mr Copeland said it was not unusual for pigeons to congregate in large flocks during the winter and remain in an area until the local food resources were depleted.


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