Monday, May 28, 2007

Making a Coat-Hanger Sparrow Trap

Back in April, I posted a short squib about human-wildlife conflicts and the fact that some people do not see such things as unhappy problems, but as an opportunity to score dinner.

As part of that post, I mentioned that when my brother and I were young and living in North Africa with my parents, we would amuse ourselves by trapping sparrows using a jaw trap made from a weak spring and an old coat hanger wire.

The traps we used were store-bought (and probably Italian made), but I have made a few poor copies since coming to the U.S. and a reader in Japan (an American falconer) wanted to know how to build one. The instructions are below.

Expect a bit of fit-and-fiddle work putting one of these together; it probably will not go together smoothly the first time. That said, it's not quite rocket science, and if you are handy with wire and a little bit patient and willing to try again, you should be able to assemble your own.

These traps live-catch the sparrows -- the wire "jaws" close down around the sparrow's neck, but the spring is very weak (snap it on your thumb to make sure it is not too hard) and the feathers on the bird cushion the blow. The bird is trapped by the neck and unable to fly solely due to the trap's small weight. Note that if a cat is around, it will steal both your birds and your traps, while if a heavier bird or a rat is caught it may be able to fly or crawl away with your trap. Staking a trap with a short piece of fishing line can prevent trap loss.

A Tunisian fellow was over at the house on Saturday repairing a window, and I showed him my trap and asked him if he had used them when he was a kid -- he had. Sadly, kids in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia these days no longer use these traps much -- they have TV now. Ask any middle-aged North African, however, and he will remember the Good Old Days, when kids spent a lot of time shooting marbles, playing with wooden tops, catching sparrows, and saving up money for a real leather soccer ball.

Note small store-bought springs in middle. Use one spring per trap.

  1. The thick blue line sketch is a drawing showing the main "frame" of the trap. The pencil-lead part of the sketch is of the swinging jaw of the trap -- the "C-jaw". Starting with a drawing is a good idea, as you need to make sure that the tongue of the trap (the long extension drawn in blue) will extend past the hinging jaw (outlined in pencil).

  2. All three of the main parts of the trap are made from heavy-duty coat hanger wire and are shown cut and ready to assemble. The very light-wire part of the trigger is not shown, but two inches of any light wire will do the trick. The last photo shows how the trigger assembly works.

  3. The spring has been put on the "frame" of the trap. You use one spring and split it into two parts, with the middle bit of the straightened spring affixed in the gap as shown. You need to put the spring on before you bend over the ends of the coat hanger frame to hold them fast together.

  4. The straight piece of coat hanger wire with the little hook on the end is part of the catch. The hook is affixed to the loop at the end of the long tongue of the trap, and then the bar is pulled over the hinged C-jaw, and the end of the catch is then caught on a small light-wire hook affixed to the straightened part of the spring that is in the gap at the center of the trap frame.

The assembled trap is shown above. This picture shows a professionally-made trap, and not the poorly made one-off affair show at the very top and below. Give me time, a proper jig to bend the wires, and 100 practice runs assembling these things, and my craftsmanship is sure to improve!

The trigger mechanism is show in the close up, above. Note that the brake bar is barely held by the light wire hook in the middle of the trap. The trap is baited by sliding a little piece of bread over the light wire hook.


Isaac said...

Thanks Patrick! I appreciate it!

zac eads said...

What is the scale (diameter) of the trap?

PBurns said...

A shade over six inches in diameter (i.e. the length of a U.S. dollar bill).


J said...

Just an observation, in the image after step 4, the trap is incorrectly set, the straight wire should be inside the little loop (seen sideways in this image)a little below (close to the the tip of red Bait hook arrow), they were widely used in the Alentejo region of Portugal, you can still find them in more traditional hardware stores dangling from the cieling in massive bunches, last time I checked they reailed for 1,5€. They´re usualy made by "Blade Sharpeners". January is the best time to buy them, as this is the time when the "Blade Sharpeners" wander arround the towns to anounce the rain.

PBurns said...

Actually that trap is set fine. If you set it inside the loop that works too, but if the bird pecks in one direction, it actually makes the trap so it will not spring. The way that trap is set, if the trap is pecked at in any direction, it will spring.

Cameron said...

I've been trying to figure out a trigger system for this kind of trap. Thanks for the pics!