The effects of changing agricultural practice upon Woodpigeon Columba palumbus numbers



The Woodpigeon Columba palumbus population in a 1070 ha study area in East Anglia was studied from 1961 to 1986. This paper relates variations in Woodpigeon numbers to changes in the areas and types of crops grown.

In the early 1960s the mean Woodpigeon population fluctuated between 60 and 112 birds per 50 ha during the winter months. Subsequently there was a steady decline until the population levelled out in the early 1970s at around 30 birds per 50 ha. From a very low point in 1977, the numbers of birds increased reaching in 1986 a mean of 55 birds per 50 ha.

Marked changes occurred in the types of cereals grown in the area. In the 1960s spring-sown barley was the major crop with winter-sown wheat occupying most of the remaining area. Throughout the 1970s winter wheat was increasingly grown and winter-sown barley replaced the spring-sown variety. Although the area of permanent pasture did not change significantly, the area of clover ley was reduced markedly in the late 1960s. In the mid 1970s silage and oilseed rape were introduced and the cultivation of peas was expanded. On the basis of the crop types grown, the study period was divided into two 11-year blocks 1961–1971 and 1975–1985. Crop preferences of Woodpigeons were calculated for each month within each of these 11-year periods. A series of stepwise regressions was then conducted on both of the 11-year periods in order to see how well the areas of preferred crops in a particular month could account for the mean population size of that month.

In the winters 1961/62 to 1971/72 the winter Woodpigeon population size was influenced by two crops. The area of cereal sowings largely determined how many birds remained in the area in December. The availability of clover ley, which depended upon both the area of clover ley and the amount of snow cover, controlled the population size in January and February.

In the winters 1975/76 to 1985/86 the population size was again affected by two crops. In November the amount of grain on both stubbles and sowings influenced how many young birds stayed in the area. The area of oilseed rape in December then set the population size which changed very little throughout the rest of the winter.

The change in the pattern of population regulation has profound implications for the likely success of shooting Woodpigeons in winter as a means of reducing local numbers.