Page:Bird Life Throughout the Year (Salter, 1913).djvu/271

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will admit at the last that he shoots it because it is a hawk, and will improvise a story of his having once seen a kestrel kill a young pheasant at the coops. So, for a crime as rare as it is ill-attested, the race must suffer. Upon the moors the Merlin is destroyed because of its fancied penchant for grouse chicks, though all observers agree that it preys, chiefly or entirely, upon the smaller moorland birds, pipits, twites and wheatears. But when we come to the Owls we have a still stronger case. Here upon the rails are the recognisable remains of sixty owls; five have been hanged within the week. There is something pitiable in seeing an owl, with its soft and downy plumage showing such exquisite gradations of colour, hanging, bedraggled by weather, until it becomes a mere scarecrow—a thing of shreds and patches. It is the pole-trap which has wrought this fatal havoc. In the middle of the straight ride which runs through the fir plantation, an upright post bears upon its summit a toothed gin, like an ordinary rat-trap but round in outline. This narrow alley between the trees is a general highway. Every owl or hawk which skims along it will alight upon the post, the hawk to throw a keen glance around, the owl to listen for the least rustle or stir of mouse or shrew. Caught by the legs, they hang there, alive, sometimes for days. The employment of this instrument of torture is now prohibited by law, but it is doubtful