German Crow-Killing Group Faces Growing Backlash

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.

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.

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.

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