Flying farmyard ferals

Adrian Kenney enjoys his conservation work slugging starlings and Indian mynas

With the wide distribution of both game and pest species across Australia, we as hunters are often spoilt for choice. Many opt to seek the pigs and goats of the red dirt plains and Pilliga Scrub or the big sambar deer of those rugged mountains high. Even more love hunting bunnies via every method. A mostly untapped resource by the majority of the hunting minded would have to be starlings and Indian mynas.

When you consider the vast habitat in which they live and the amount of food resources they consume, it is rather confronting to imagine the number of native birds they have wiped from our landscape. They would be native birds that previously landed in those trees and fed on that ground but now, their calls are silenced and we have another sound ‑ of starlings and Indian mynas.

While other game and pest species may take priority as they provide food or fur, it’s often a pleasant change of pace to rest the centrefire or rimfire in the gun safe and reach for the air rifle for some different conservation work, that also happens to be satisfying.

Both starlings and Indian mynas are far from stupid or easy to hunt. Their extremely keen eyesight and gregarious nature makes sneaking up on them to within airgun range a challenge to say the least. Fortunately, they love to frequent farmhouse yards, taking advantage of leftover chook feed and pet food then resting in the surrounding trees.

Although these areas provide food and shelter for the birds, they also deliver great cover for the airgun hunter to knock them off their perch.

I recently made arrangements with a local farmer for an afternoon of airgun hunting. This gave me the farmyard to myself, allowing for safe shooting and less disturbance to the birds. I stepped out of my vehicle as eager as a beagle on a fox hunt and filled my Air Arms S410 with air from the dive bottle to the required pressure.

Loaded with shooting sticks, pellet pouch, rifle and seat, I snuck into the work shed and out of the sun. The shed offered the perfect shooting spot as it was centrally located and had openings facing in the two main directions of likely bird activity. Best of all, it had a clear shooting lane to the roof of the chook pen and fruit tree behind.

I was in the middle of setting up my seat and shooting sticks when the chatter of Indian mynas in the tree outside captured my attention. Clearly it was siesta time as the colourful birds sat preening themselves peacefully in a tree only 20 yards away. Easing in behind the walnut stock of the Air Arms, the fattest most frontal target filled the scope, with the cross-hairs quartering its brown chest feathers. There was a ‘twang’ then a ‘thwack’ with a puff of feathers followed by a burst of wings and alarm calls as his companions pulled stumps on siesta time.

About 70 yards out in the paddock stood a large gum tree in which they sat with heads tilting amid questioning looks as to what had happened. Convinced of an emphatic kill, I stayed in the shed and settled into my shooting position with sticks facing the chook pen roof. They would be back.

There was nothing in the branches over the shipping container to my right, just the lazy sound of hens ambling around the farmyard garden. Then, with a burst of calls and wing beats the mynas were back, this time landing among the branches of the fruit tree which meant I struggled to distinguish their subtle movements.

Then, one chose to be accommodating and landed out on the fringe of the tree where its body was visible to me. Not as confident as before as it was a side-on shot, I took careful aim and put pressure on the trigger. A limp feathered form duly dropped through the branches as the other mynas exited with apparent eagerness.

That’s number two I thought to myself as I worked the bolt, pushing a third pellet into the barrel before placing the rifle’s fore-end back into the shooting sticks. Periodically I’d sneak out to the open front of the shed and pop my head out to check for starlings that frequented the trees around the cattle yards. Often, they were there. Those greasy lice-infested flying rats sat chirping in the afternoon sun as I snuck over with my gun. Every time I tried to approach by sneaking hunched over, they would immediately take flight.

So, I began just ambling out of the shed slowly with head down as if not even aware of their presence or interested in it. On reaching the gate post I’d simply lift the rifle gradually to form a steady rest and raise my head until those mongrel starlings came into scope vision. Several times I made that same amble out with tension and hope in my mind that when I got there and finally looked up, they’d still be there, and most times they were. Lesson learned.

On the other hand, the Indian mynas were wising up fast and made frustratingly few visits. Back in the shed, I noticed an Indian myna land high in a tree at the end of the house. I inched over towards the shed wall to take a rest with the rifle. The airgun’s pellet impacted with an extra thud this time as the projectile punched through the myna’s back. He dropped like a feathered golf ball, deflecting from branch to branch as he fell as if he was caught in nature’s pinball machine.

The chatter of Indian mynas could be heard on several occasions throughout the afternoon from the front of the house. Each time I headed down to try for a shot they would see me before I would see them and all I would get was an alarm call and a flurry of wings.

Later in the day as the afternoon shadows lengthened and the orange tinge of a setting sun settled upon the farm sheds surrounding me, things were quietening down and I tried a few longer shots out into the gum tree in the paddock.

For some reason the Indian mynas had reached the conclusion it was a preferential perch and indeed it was for both my shots missed and landed harmlessly in the paddock. With that I packed up my gear and went for a stroll around to see what birds I could find for a photo. Unfortunately, with the long grass and debris around the base of trees and sheds I only found seven of the 11 I had shot.

Amazed and a bit disappointed that I couldn’t find birds that had dropped like lifeless stones, I packed up and headed off. But I will be back, because slugging starlings and Indian mynas off their high rests is too much fun not to.

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