Keeping on top of corvids is a year-round task, but the job is more important than ever during the spring months. When swirling black clouds of crows and jackdaws home in on fresh seed drillings, the best solution tends to be a noisy day out with the shotgun. However, stealthier sessions with an air rifle can also make a significant contribution, especially when targeting crows and magpies close to livestock. 

One of my recent airgun outings on corvids happened more by accident that design. I was out on an estate where my main responsibility is the control of grey squirrels, although any assistance with keeping avian pests in check is also welcomed. On this particular permission, crows, magpies and jackdaws – which seem to be more abundant than ever right now – make a serious nuisance of themselves by stealing eggs, and sometimes chicks, too, from a large chicken run. Add that to the impact they have on nesting songbirds and the fact that the tenant farmer’s lambing season is getting into full swing and it’s easy to understand why keeping their numbers down is a priority. 

My visit to the woods wasn’t intended to be anything more than a rove around to check up on my squirrel feeders. I had just bagged an unfortunate bushy-tail that had made the mistake of lingering as I approached a bait station, when the morning’s peace was shattered by the rattle of agitated magpies. As I emerged from the trees where the plantation flanks the main farm, I was just in time to see two black and white bandits and several crows fleeing from the poultry run. Gradually lengthening days had prompted the hens to start laying again, and the corvids had clearly cottoned on to the new food source. 

These opportunistic scavengers are usually eager to return after finding an easy meal, so I had a feeling that this could prove to be a great opportunity to bring some of the feathered thieves to book. I didn’t have the full decoying and hide-building set-up that I usually draft into action when targeting these crafty birds, but I had a few decoys in the boot of my car, as well as a small camo net that I keep stashed in my backpack for impromptu opportunities like this. 



Equipped with the bits and pieces that I’d rummaged from the car, I returned to where I had spotted the marauding corvids and considered my options. With no cover to conceal me close to the chicken run, I decided to base my ambush on the woodland edge. Here, a relatively new hardwood plantation offered comparatively open shots across a wide arc, whilst the mature woodland flanking it provided undergrowth and thick tree trunks to help keep me out of sight. 

I gathered up a couple of windblown branches and pushed them into the ground to create props for my camo net. Sticks were then used to peg the bottom of the net to prevent it from flapping conspicuously in the wind. I have to admit that the blind I had created looked somewhat insubstantial, but the thick ivy-clad trunks of towering old ash trees provided a very welcome backdrop that I hoped would conceal my outline. 

With my makeshift hide looking just about acceptable, I turned my attention to drawing the corvids in my direction. As luck would have it, one of the decoys I found whilst searching through my boot was an imitation little owl. Crows and magpies can get very agitated when they spot a bird of prey on their patch, and an owl decoy like this can sometimes provoke a boisterous mobbing. It is a method that works best during the nesting season, when corvids are even more territorial than usual. There were plenty of signs of nesting activity, so I felt it was worth a try. 

A little owl decoy can really stir up territorial corvids in the spring.                                                                                                  


Owl decoys need to be in a prominent spot to grab the attention of passing birds, so I set mine up on the fence line between the plantation and the yard. The base of this decoy has a small spike on it, which I was able to push into the top of a post about 25 metres from my hide. With the owl in position, I then placed the squirrel I’d shot during my woodland wander at its feet. My hope was that seeing an owl helping itself to a hearty meal on their patch would make territorial corvids even more inclined to bundle in for a scrap. 

My decoy arrangement was completed with a crow propped in a tree about ten metres from the owl. Sitting up on its perch, this very conspicuous decoy made the set-up unmissable whilst giving the impression that a mobbing was already underway. 

Having completed my preparations, I slipped into the hide, made myself comfortable on my beanbag seat and put on a camo head net. Crows and magpies are incredibly sharp-eyed birds and will usually shy away if they spot a flash of pale skin down in the shadows. Bearing in mind that my hastily assembled hide didn’t provide a great deal of cover, I wanted to do everything I could to swing the odds in my favour. 


My final task before waiting it out was to top up my .177 calibre Weihrauch HW100K’s magazine with pellets. Although often brief, action can get very hectic when corvids home in on a decoy set-up like this, and the last thing I wanted was to have to fumble around with reloading in the heat of the action. Ammo of choice was the 9.56-grain version of QYS Domed pellets, which are very accurate through this particular airgun. 

One of my main reasons for choosing this spot for my ambush was that birds use the new plantation as a route in and out of yard. Magpies in particular seem to like the fact that whilst the establishing trees give them cover as they flit from branch to branch, the relatively open aspect also enables them to keep a close eye on what’s going on around them. 

Hide shooting usually takes a lot of patience – especially when targeting corvids – but I had only been sitting down for about 20 minutes when clucks from the far edge of the main woods suggested that the magpies were on their way back. Their chatter was intermittent and relatively calm at first, but gradually increased in frequency and volume as they drifted closer. 

A magpie settles within range and Mat takes aim from behind his camo blind.                                                                            


A distant flash of black and white betrayed the whereabouts of a bird as it wove its way through a tangle of ivy at the far edge of the plantation. At around 100 metres from my hide, this magpie was well out of range, but it was travelling in the right direction. 

Rasping loudly as it emerged from the ivy, this bird had clearly clocked the owl decoy and didn’t appear to be impressed. The disgruntled magpie made a beeline for the imitation raptor, screeching and rattling as it closed in. I already had the gun up on my sticks as it swooped into the top of an oak tree about 30 metres from my hiding place. Knowing that the agitated bird wouldn’t settle for long, I quickly settled the crosshairs on its chest and dropped it with a shot that struck with a solid whack to the engine room. 

It was a clean kill, but the rasping and chatter continued as two more magpies emerged from the cover of the woods. One of them foolishly fluttered over and pitched in the same tree as the first bird and was promptly added to the bag. The other had clearly seen enough to convince it that something was amiss and sensibly decided to retreat into the distant cover. 


Early action was followed by a long quiet spell, and it was more than an hour before my attention was snapped back into focus by the croak of a crow. This bird drifted in with no hesitation and perched in the uppermost boughs of an ash tree around 35 metres away. Thankful for the extra support of the tripod, I settled the crosshair just above the crow’s head and touched off the trigger to drop it with a wallop to the skull. 

Felling a crow from the top of a tree like that will often provoke a raucous response from any others in the vicinity, but not on this occasion. All remained silent and I didn’t get another shot before impatience and discomfort forced me to pack up about an hour later. So, my stakeout concluded with three birds – not a large bag but a useful one when it’s made up of a trio of nest-robbers. 

The impromptu ambush pays off and the session concludes with a trio of corvids.                                                                     


GUN: Weihrauch HW100K .....................................

SCOPE: Hawke Airmax 30 SF Compact ......... 

AMMO: QYS Domed 9.56-grain .......................... 

JACKET: Ridgeline Grizzly III .................................