Andy Crow's guide to the pigeon's seasonal menu

Andy Crow in the pigeon hide

Winter beans can produce some fantastic summer shooting opportunities - Credit: Emily Damment

This month, Andy Crow explains which crops the pigeons will be eating at different times of the year, to help you better plan your days in the hide.

If you know what the farmer will be growing on your permissions, and when exactly he plans to drill the crops, you can work out which days might produce a decent day’s shooting using Andy’s complete guide to the pigeon’s seasonal menu. 

Spring beans 
Winter beans are usually the last crop to go in, whereas spring beans are often the first. Depending on conditions, they are drilled any time from late February through to the end of March. They often get hammered because it’s the first lot of spring drillings the pigeons have access to.  
They also have a long root, so once they start to come up, they can push themselves up out of the ground if they’ve not been put in very deep; at that point the pigeons can get back on them again, and the crows like them so it’s worth keeping an eye out for those, too. 
They are harvested a little bit earlier than winter beans (September time) because they have a shorter growing window, and at that point you’ve got another really good chance of a decent day in the hide.  

Spring wheat 
This is often drilled at a similar time to spring beans, depending on conditions. On chalky ground, people tend to put it in late February to early March; on heavier ground they don’t tend to drill until mid March. This grows pretty short, so there’s more chance of the ears falling through onto the ground when it’s harvested. The pigeons like to get on these, so around mid September, which is when it’s harvested, you might get a good day in.  

Peas 
This can produce some great days. Peas are put in from mid March onwards, basically once the soil temperature is warm enough. I usually drill mine on the 15 March, but others might wait until mid April. The pigeons love the shoots when they first come through. Once it starts growing, they’ll get into any thinner spots and eat the leaves. As soon as the flowers start coming, they’ll move onto those, and then they’ll move from the flowers onto the pods and start opening the pods up. So, it pays to watch this one closely!  
As I said, I drill peas in mid March, and my crop will start coming through around late March/early April. They’ll stay on it right the way through, with the flowers starting to show around mid May into June, and then they’ll be on the pods. It’s harvested mid July, which will also attract 
the birds.  

Maize 
Maize is drilled in late April right through to May, when the soil gets warm enough. We don’t usually get too much pigeon shooting on maize drillings; the biggest problem is crows, magpies and jackdaws digging it up once it’s started coming through, a few weeks after it’s been drilled. You need to keep the farmer happy by keeping the corvids off!  
When the crop is harvested, around late September through to the end of November depending on how it matures, you can get a bit of pigeon shooting in too. 

Spring rape 
Spring rape is drilled mid March to late April, again, once the soil has warmed up. The pigeons will be on it as soon as it starts to come through – they like the fresh leaves, because by then they’ve moved out of the woods where they’ll have spent a lot of time on buds and things. They’ll stay on the spring rape then, eating the leaves and then the flowers, right the way through until harvest. You can usually get some good days shooting over spring rape, so keep an eye on it! 

Spring linseed 
Spring linseed is drilled in late April. You might get a few pigeons on it once the new shoots start to come through, but they won’t be on it for long, so make the most of it while they are. Once it’s harvested, they very rarely get on it. 

Lucerne 
This is grown for sileage, and is usually on a three-year cycle. In year one, they do get onto it and they love it! It’s similar to white clover to look at, and they prefer it to rape; I’ve had a lot of good days on lucerne. It will perform usually until around mid April once it starts to get long and woody. Once they’ve sileaged it, they tend to get back on it again, so keep an eye on it at that point. 

Oilseed rape 
This is a good crop to shoot over. It’s usually drilled any time from the last week of June through to mid September, depending on how people want to put it in. Some put it in late; I like to put it in early before the main hatch of the flea beetle, which is usually mid August. The pigeons generally won’t start on that until late September/October time, depending on whether there’s acorns or beechnuts around. If there’s a big acorn or beech nut crop, they tend to stay on those before they get onto the oilseed rape. Once they’re on the oilseed rape, they’ll usually stay on it right the way through into mid-late March.
There are different varieties of rapeseed oil, and I am currently using a variety that’s really thick; it’s growing really well and starting to flower. It’s those flowering heads that they want to eat at this time of year, and they’ve recently worked out how to land on top of the crop and eat the heads.  
If you’ve got any poor areas in the field, like a wet spot where it hasn’t come through so well, you might get some good late days there around April/May time. Once the crop is harvested, usually from early July through to the end of July, you can get some good days in too. 

Winter linseed  
More and more people are tending to grow winter linseed now. It’s a good rape crop, because you don’t have the same trouble with the flea beetle or with slugs. The pigeons have switched onto it now, and they do tend to hammer it. You can have some really good days on winter linseed, whereas with spring linseed they won’t be there for long because it grows quicker, and they tend to leave it alone once it’s grown.  
Winter linseed is usually put in late August to early September, but the birds won’t get on it until the weather starts getting a bit colder and their other food sources have started to dry up. 

Most Read

Winter barley 
Winter barley is put in the ground in early September and is cut quite early, usually before anything else. It has a greater chance of going flat, and if it does the pigeons will probably get on it. It’s always worth keeping an eye on it for two to three weeks after it’s been harvested in early July as well, because they do tend to get back on it again. 
The barley isn’t like winter wheat, which tends to germinate once it gets wet. If barley is still in the ears it has a tendency to stay there, so it pays to keep an eye on barley stubbles because you might see bird action on that right the way through until it’s cultivated. 

Winter wheat 
This is sown anytime from mid September right the way through until December in a wet season (it all depends on the ground and soil conditions). The pigeons get on it when it’s sown, but not for very long because the only places where there will be any on top for them to eat will be on the headlands where you’ve been turning, or rough/wet spots where the seed hasn’t gone in so well. 
Once they’ve cleared that up, that’ll be it and they’ll be off again. You then might find that the crows get on it once it starts coming up, but only really if they haven’t got anything else to feed on.  
The next time you shoot anything on wheat will probably be in early to mid June through until harvest. Over the last few years pigeons have mastered how to land on standing wheat – it doesn’t have to go flat anymore for them to hammer it. However, if you do get some flat areas, they’re always good spots, and they can feed on those spots any time from late May right the way through until harvest. Harvest for winter wheat can be any time from late July through until October, depending on the year and how many acres people have got. 

Rye 
A lot of people with AD Plants now are growing rye. It’s called a whole crop, and they harvest it just as it’s getting milky; there’s a good chance the ears will get broken off when it’s being harvested, and you can get some really good days on that. It’s put in autumn time. It’s usually harvested in mid-late June, and it’s usually the first thing to be harvested. 

Winter beans 
Winter beans are drilled in late October through to mid November, and you can have some good days on this crop. The later they go, in the more chance you have of the soil being damp, meaning there’s more chance some beans will be left on top for the birds to feed on. 
If that’s the case, you can get some good days in at this time of year. So, it pays to keep an eye on that, not just for pigeons but for crows as well. Food sources are starting to get scarce for the crows by this time.  
After that, they won’t touch them until probably late June to early July. Once the pods have formed, if there are any thin patches of crop, the pigeons tend to land amongst the crop and open the pods up. So, that can perform really well. Winter beans are harvested, depending on the year, any time from late September onwards, and that can produce some really good days too.