Coyote Hunting is for the Birds

Consider adding bird sounds to increase close encounters of the coyote kind.

Coyote Hunting is for the Birds

Have you noticed that when you crank up your predator calls that sometimes the birdcage gets opened simultaneously? A bevy of birds appear out of nowhere, but it’s no coincidence. There’s a finely tuned relationship between many bird species and predators, particularly coyotes. And since most predators rarely turn their nose to a free meal, the sounds of any bird, perilous or proudly trumpeting, rings a possible dinner invite.

Much of my coyote calling takes place in the West, and magpies are as common as diesel trucks in sagebrush country. Black-billed magpies show up on the majority of my setups. From years of experience, I can tell coyotes not only look to these black-and-white birds for confidence, but magpie groupies also follow coyotes to the food truck.

Finding a call to mimic a magpie during my early years of predator hunting was impossible. Mouth-blown calls were the norm, and nobody had commercially explored this genre of calling yet. Years later, I finally saw the magpie sound appear on the library of a new e-caller I acquired, and I immediately put those chattering magpies to work.

It was late-winter with the breeding season under way. Most coyotes had either heard a caller or been chased enough times by pickups to maintain a low, mob-style profile. My recent weekend setups were as successful as a drive-thru barbershop. With the new caller, I still felt a less-is-best approach was warranted, as I slipped into position just before daybreak.

Once shooting light illuminated the landscape, I touched off a series of lone howls. I waited for approximately 10 minutes, scanning for an inquisitive set of beady eyes. When nothing appeared, I started the chatter of magpies and continued that sound on and off for another 10 minutes. Throughout the set, real magpies arrived, landing around me and looking for the reason their brethren had sent out a call to duty.

That’s when I spied a magpie landing on a fence post 200 yards away. A moment later, beady eyes appeared over the tall sagebrush. When the coyote dropped out of sight to secure a better vantage point, I adjusted for the shot. When it peaked again, I let the air out of it with some V-Max assistance. When I’m hunting coyotes today in my backyard of Wyoming and Montana, I rarely execute a setup without magpie cries or other bird chitchat.

Abner Druckenmiller is the director of sales for Foxpro and splits his time as one of the hosts for Foxpro Furtakers TV on The Outdoor Channel. Druckenmiller grew up in the mountains of central Pennsylvania and has been hunting since he was 8. His early years were spent pursuing whitetails, turkeys and waterfowl. For the past 15 years, he’s added predators to that list with experiences that span North America. He understands that adding different sounds can make predators, such as pressured coyotes, think about an auditory clue in a more inquisitive nature. For him, bird sounds take calling to a higher level.

“I have been blessed to call coyotes and other predators across the country and provinces in Canada,” Druckenmiller said. “I’ve called predators in the Deep South, East, West and North. The point is that no matter where I am calling predators, I always use bird sounds in a variety of instances. Bird distress sounds are a given. I have some favorites such as Nutty Nuthatch, Ranting Redbird, Lucky Bird and Titmouse Tantrum. Bird distress sounds carry a long way, especially in windy conditions. Plus, they offer a change from the norm. It’s something different from using a rabbit all the time.”

Most experienced turkey hunters have called in a coyote using hen yelps. If a decoy was in place, they most likely got to see the sneaky nature of a coyote on the hunt.
Most experienced turkey hunters have called in a coyote using hen yelps. If a decoy was in place, they most likely got to see the sneaky nature of a coyote on the hunt.

BIRD GROUPIES

Bird sounds fall into two main categories: distress and interest. Curious species of birds that could react to your prey in distress sounds or even coyote vocalizations vary by region. Despite who shows up, the sound or sight of birds can attract coyotes to see “what’s up?” It also tells coyotes all is good because feathered sentries are on guard.

One species that shows up in every corner of North America, except the very southern tier of the country, is the American crow. Expect to see them whether you scream out a volley of death or a coyote vocalization. The American crow is an opportunist and exhibits great senses to find your location when you advertise. You might call in a handful of crows or a flock of hundreds, if not larger. They have been documented to roost in masses of more than a half-million birds in one giant swarm.

In northern tiers of the country and across the West, the common raven is just as apt to seek you out when sending a song-dog tune or cry out in pain. Even if your caller doesn’t have the gruffer sound of a raven included in the library, a few caws from your crow soundtrack will lure in the larger scavengers and coyotes alike. Like crows, a gathering of ravens can signal that there is a free taco bar open or simply instill confidence to a responding coyote that aerial surveillance is operational.

Following along with the Western groupie genre, expect black-billed magpies to respond to nearly every predator sound you employ. These squawking irritants chatter up a conversation and will surround you if the setting or situation warrants. Magpies feed side by side with coyotes on carcasses, so if you do see a gaggle of theses scavengers, slow down. Approach any area carefully looking for the silvery back of a coyote munching on the same carrion.

In other regions of the country, you’ll likely be visited by various species of jays. Blue jays, grey (or gray) jays, Steller’s jays and scrub jays cover much of the country with blues primarily east, and grays, Steller’s and scrubs primarily west. All show up for various reasons, including curiosity, warnings and to feed. They all have a varied diet similar to crows, ravens and magpies. Animal and plant matter will produce energy, so they don’t mind sharing a meal with other regional hunters or scavengers. As a warning, be still if these birds respond. Not only might a coyote be in tow, but they can also shriek an alarm if they spot you.

“I also use various types of birds as confident sounds on my calling stands,” Druckenmiller said. “During the day, I’ll use crow sounds almost anywhere. If I’m out west, magpie sounds help create realism or confidence in the stand.”

An increasing number of hunters add in bird sounds to instill confidence and add realism to a situation. Still, you might be overlooking another time where bird sounds can boost success. That time is after dark. As predators get cagier, many successful hunters are switching to nighttime calling. Druckenmiller doesn’t mind working the graveyard shift, but even then, he wants any incoming predator to approach with a sense of certainty that all is OK. Bird sounds create that assurance even after dark.  

“When I am night calling, I use some natural voice owl sounds to create confidence in the stand to hopefully attract any shy predators,” Druckenmiller said. “This helps create a sense of urgency for that coyote or fox to get there quickly, before anything else does. Two of my favorites are great horned owl hoots and barred owl hoots to lure in other predators.”

Despite your enthusiasm to make your next stand appear more real than the next installment of “Jurassic Park,” Druckenmiller warns that too much bird banter could actually send a warning to predators. A few verses of bird chatter go a long way.

“When I am using bird sounds as confidence sounds, I certainly do not go overboard with them,” Druckenmiller said. “I like to play my confidence sounds, such as crows or magpies, over the top of my distress sounds. I mainly use the FoxFusion feature for this combination. I personally wouldn’t recommend hooting your guts out or playing crow sounds for the entire 15 minutes that you’re on a stand. If I do not get a response by utilizing some of these sounds, then I will play other sounds to trigger a response. At that point, you have to consider using other bird sounds, a rabbit or even coyote vocals.”

Most electronic caller sound libraries include various bird sounds.
Most electronic caller sound libraries include various bird sounds.

BIRDS ON THE MENU

Utilizing birds to boost confidence gives you another faux situation to create while on a stand. Still, birds offer more than just moral support to predators such as coyotes. Like KFC, birds can provide a snack to any predator that has experienced a slow day of hunting. They can’t just swing into a drive-through and order a bucket of extra crispy. But if they hear the squabble of birds, particularly those in peril, it broadcasts a bucket opportunity regardless of the size of the drumstick.

 “I start nearly every stand out with a soft rabbit distress, and if I do not get a response, I switch to another louder rabbit sound,” Druckenmiller explained. “At that point I like to owl hoot or play some crow or magpie sounds as confidence for one to two minutes. Again, I like to use FoxFusion to overlay the sounds on my Foxpro with the crow and magpie. If this doesn’t work, then I will switch into my bird sounds in this order, Nutty Nuthatch, one to two minutes; Titmouse Tantrum, one to two minutes; and Starling Distress for one to two minutes.”

For even more realism, he increases and decreases the volume of these sounds during the cadence. And to encourage a predator to continue hunting the sound Druckenmiller doesn’t maintain a continuous stretch of a particular distress sound. His go-to length is approximately one to three minutes per sound, followed by a pause.

Most e-callers include the sounds of birds in distress. In the case of Foxpro, other bird rackets to consider are the Ranting Red Bird, Lucky Bird and Starling Distress. If you’re cash strapped and can’t afford the luxuries of an e-caller with a massive sound library, you can go back to other hunting genres for bird sounds. Most experienced turkey hunters have called in a coyote using hen yelps, and if a decoy was in place they most likely got to see the sneaky nature of a coyote on the hunt.

Other gamebird sounds to consider are the startled cackle of a ring-necked pheasant or quail in distress. Waterfowl hunters have options that include the sounds of a frantic mallard or alarmed goose into a predator setup complete with decoys. If a manufacturer doesn’t include the sound in their library, it doesn’t mean something you’ve thought of on-the-fly won’t work. Druckenmiller also emphasizes that the particular bird sound you include doesn’t have to be locally grown.

“And remember, just because you do not have a bird called a nuthatch where you are calling doesn’t mean the coyote knows that,” he said. “Predators lack the ability to reason.”

As for decoys, Druckenmiller views them as a bonus. Not only do they complete the theatrics you are portraying, such as adding in a turkey decoy to frenzied yelps, they also add in an attraction for the predator that provides a distraction from you. Paused predators might energize after spotting decoy movement, and once they lock onto the sidetrack simile, they are less apt to spot you waiting in the shadows.  

“I honestly believe that without bird distress sounds, I wouldn’t have been as successful on a lot of the stands that I have made,” Druckenmiller said. “I find many predators arriving to bird sounds late in the stand, and I highly doubt they would have shown up if I had not played them. I think of predator calling a lot like nymph fishing for trout. I have several flies that I use to go fishing, and if I do not get a hit on something I am using, I will change it up. The point is simply this: Whatever sound they are responding to that night or day is the sound that I will use until it stops working. Right now, I know that using bird sounds can greatly increase your success on your next stand.”

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