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Don’t Blame Predators For the Lack of Birds

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December 19, 2011

Don’t Blame Predators For the Lack of Birds

by Phil Bourjaily

Usually, I post about hunting and shooting things with a shotgun, but in order to do that, I need birds to shoot at and those are in short supply in Iowa’s uplands* these days. So instead I will vent. One of my many frustrations with our lack of birds is listening to people--often people who spend a lot of time outdoors and should know better--blame predators alone for our lack of birds. I have heard all the following and more this season:


There are more birds south of the interstate ‘cause the guys down there do a better job of killing coyotes.

All these bald eagles along the river are eating the pheasants.

I saw a mountain lion the other day. I bet they eat pheasants.

We walked miles of good cover and never saw a pheasant but there’s a hawk in every tree.

And so on. But, we had predators 10-15 years ago and we were covered with pheasants. There’s no denying predators eat some birds, but a much bigger factor in our pheasant decline lies under our boots. Those “miles of good cover” people talk about? They have gotten old. It’ s not the predators. It’s the grass. Even where we still have pheasant cover, a lot of it has lost its benefit for wildlife.

Many of our set-aside fields in Iowa are planted in brome grass, pictured above. For the first few years of a stand of brome’s life, it supports birds. As brome grows older, it gets thicker, becoming difficult for baby pheasants to move around in, crowding out many seed-bearing plants that provide food for chicks. It is also so short as to make worthless winter cover if any snow falls at all. Pheasants can neither reproduce in brome grass nor winter in it, and so, fields of formerly great cover become pheasant deserts. This is why hunters can walk miles of grass where they used to shoot lots of birds and see nothing at all and then, since it looks more or less the same, they blame predators.

Explaining this to people who want to believe other animals are eating all the pheasants is very frustrating, so I thought I’d take a shot at it here. And, there is some good news: my friends at Pheasants Forever tell me that any new or renewed CRP acres will have to be planted in more diverse native grasses and forbs that should have much more benefit for wildlife. Between that and a break in the weather, perhaps our birds can start to come back. Even so, Iowa will never be what it was a few years ago.

*Iowa’s annual pheasant harvest, tops in the nation just a few years ago at a million birds plus, has fallen to under 200,000 after five harsh, snowy winters and wet springs in a row and the loss of thousands of acres of habitat cleared to make room for $6/bushel corn. Our quail? Even worse. We used to have ruffed grouse, too, before our timbers got too old, but that’s a rant for another time.

Comments (41)

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from stick500 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Phil lives in Iowa?
I remember well the great hunting IA used to have and have heard all the theories about why they're gone- this deal about the grass changing is a new one to me.
Hopefully, we can get back somewhere where we used to be someday- my dad has a lifetime hunting license that I don't know if we'll ever bother using again.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from ejunk wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

wish I had a dollar for every time I heard somebody complain about "(insert predator here) killin' all the (insert game species here)."

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brian Robinson wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Economics are doing more damage to game populations than anything else. Corn, gas wells ect ect

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from ableskeever wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Wind turbines are predators.

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from Sarge01 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Los of habit or loss of quality habitat is the problem not only with game birds but with deer and other big game. Our hardwood forests here in the east eventually grow away from the deer and turkeys and we wonder where they went. Big mature oaks and other trees with no cover or browse don't make very good habitat for our deer. Throw in a couple bad winters with no acorns and the deer herd suffers. We didn't have very many acorns this year so our deer will suffer this winter if we have much snow.

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from tourneyking734 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I remember reading a couple of years ago about hunting partridge in maine. What the article said was that the birds that got shot by hunters, were the same ones (on average) that got killed by predators. That is, the same amount generally gets killed, regardless of it be by predators, hunters, or poor weather. That's just the way it is.

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from Bryan01 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I agree that the major threat to most game species is loss of habitat, but predators are also an issue. Not that I want to go back to the old days of DDT, but there weren't as many hawks and other birds of prey back then as there are now - and they eat more than mice. More signicantly, the coyote population has increased in a large number of areas. Saying it's all about the predators is an incorrect oversimplification, but to imply that the increase in predator population doesn't have an impact is an equally incorrect oversimplification.

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from Brian Jackson wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

So what you are saying is that CRP fields eat pheasants? I knew it!

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from 007 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I agree with the predator concern, up to a point. Like Bryan01, I too see the coyotes as a threat to our wildlife, but something you don't hear mentioned too often is feral housecats. I once read in a farming magazine, and a short time later in a hunting mag, that feral housecats take more small game in a year than does man. Mom had a big persian once that was not above bringing in full grown gray squirrels. No idea how he caught them, but he must have been good at it.

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from DSMbirddog wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Predators are certainly part of the equation but like most things, you can't isolate one determining factor. Good habitat and good cover also makes predators less effective it also allows birds to make it through tough winters. I've lived in Iowa my entire life and seen ups and downs in bird populations but nothing like it has been the last several years.

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from ishawooa wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I am not seeing many places in this country where game of all kinds is not on the decline for various reasons. Petzal's recent comments regarding the absence of big deer is an example. I could wax long and viciously on this topic but few listen and not many in authority seem to care. The decline in Wyoming has been going on for about 20 years and I don't recognize any improvement in the future. Poor land management, unacceptable rules and regulations, unneeded federal laws, introduction and mis-management of alien wolves, poor management of grizzlies, a tremendous number of predators both on ground and in the air, noxious weeds, draughts, long cold and wet winters, disease (now local elk have brucellilocious. CWD, and perhaps tuberculosis, sometimes conjunctivitis shows up in the bighorn sheep causing blindness, and "blue tongue" in the deer), I heard overuse of the rangelands both in the desert and the mountains is a problem, and other factors. Ultimately the majority of Americans don't care and had rather see us hunters sell our Weatherbys and buy a set of Taylor-mades anyway. That would be the politically correct manner for us to react according to the thinking of many non-hunters/non-shooters.

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from auburn_hunter wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

@sarge01 -
I feel for you, but here in AL, we had a banner year of acorn production, so much so that this past weekend I observed greenfields so lush they looked and felt underfoot like carpet...untouched. I got skunked on both a morning and afternoon hunt Saturday, but it still beat a day in the office.

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from sdditchpig wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

The biggest preditor in the corn belt, is a farmer with a plow. With land at 6,7,8, thousand dollars an acre, the days of the poor farmer are over. You as a tax payer, have bought into the ethanol fiasco, to the point where, not only are your birds in jepordy, but your water supply is soon to be a problem. You cannot intensly farm corn, with the inputs, of pesticide, and fertilizer, and not have a long term effect, on the enviornment. I love to see hawks, and coyotes hunting, it's a sign of productive, healthy, hunting ground. I drive around the ehanol pump, and always have.

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I have watched hawks go after pheasans with very limited success. As one example: this fall just a few minutes before my older lab ripped open her shoulder on a barbed wire fence and finally ended our season, the other two dogs put up several birds on the other side. A good-sized hawk was right on a rooster but couldn't bring it down. He was still squawking as he flew outa sight so I'm guessing he made it okay. I have also watched hawks knock down or grapple with ducks and still lose them.

When I checked in to hunt one of my favorite spots this fall, I mentioned to the rancher that we noticed four or five coyotes in the draw north of his house. He said leave em alone (not that we planned on wasting any ammo shooting them). They do more damage to the mice and prairie dogs in his hay fields than to his calves. And any minor damage they might do to the deer population was a bonus for him. Antler-addicted hunters weren't doing enough to keep the latter in check.

I have seen the quality of pheasant hunting in central Montana drop precipitously the last few years due mostly to poor weather (and that's pretty obvious). BUT THE DAILY AND POSSESSION LIMITS HAVE NOT DROPPED. Someone please explain that logic to me!

This is blog poses an interesting theory. I have also heard that introduction of turkeys is hard on pheasant environments because turkey's are so thorough about stripping the undergrowth. Is this fact or legend?

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from Tony C. wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Sorry to hear of the decline of Iowa pheasants. I deer hunted southeastern Iowa in 1999 and again in 2000 and pheasants were everywhere. I remember thinking a kid with a shotgun could have a ball on the farm I hunted. I saw mallards, turkeys, geese, pheasants, fox squirrels and the biggest rabbits I have ever seen in my life. It was just a gamey place.

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from SD Bob wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I earn my living selling guns and such to pheasant hunters so I pay close attention to what's going on. I have friends who draw their paychecks from the game fish and parks so I ask them about such stuff quite a bit. They tell me that coyotes are primarily eaters of mammals but of course they eat some birds. Avian predators eat lots of pheasants. A good indicator that there are lots of pheasants around is lots of pheasant eating hawks and falcons so if you don't see any? Your hunting will probably be bad! Weather is the quickest way to drop a population. If your state is all giddy about great duck recruitment from heavy spring and summer rains, expect the uplands to be less productive and go hunt ducks instead.

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from IowaGuy wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Excellent post, tough winters and $6 corn has destroyed bird hunting on IA

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from FloridaHunter1226 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Just like everything, you have good years and you have bad years. It's weird how a location can provide such a great habitat for the birds and then be such a terrible habitat for them years later.

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from Bernie wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Ontario Honker: I used to work for Montana FWP and can tell you that the biologists' mentality is that when bird populations are low, things will sort themselves out--e.g., fewer hunters will pursue birds. I was an information officer and am not sure I agree with that assessment. On the other hand, when pheasant numbers are high, as in North Dakota in 2009 and 2010, the ND Game & Fish Dept. kept the bag limit at three birds per day, 12 in possession. Sure as hell, a rough winter wiped out the pheasants. I believe they should have increased the limit to five per day during the last month of the season. But they apparently prefer to leave winter-killed pheasants to predators.

Something that might interest you--I remember when eight or ten years ago preservationists were clamoring to list the sage grouse on the Endangered Species List. (They still are!) Montana's response was to INCREASE the daily limit on sage grouse! Inexplicable!

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from 2lb.test wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Phil, I understand your frustration with the predator blamers but I do believe that years of hawk protection make average cover into marginal cover for quail. (I can't comment on pheasants as I live in SC.) The exceptional number of hawks makes it difficult to manage quail habitat because the suitable habitat usually ends at your property line. There is no matrix of habitat that allows birds to intersperse and spread genetic diversity. While hawk habitat does have a huge matrix, (there are hawks everywhere breeding.) Hawks that are good at hunting birds are able to spread those genes to other greater numbers of offspring.

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from Clay Cooper wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Back in 85, Mack Thompson and I was helping one of our friends on an antelope hunt on Johnson Ranch just north of Carrizozo New Mexico. We ran into a Game Warden and he told us a story about finding mountain lions dead out on White Sands Missile Range with a one to two bullet holes in them. Never once could they figure out who was allowed into those restricted areas and never recovered a bullet one. One day, one of the Biologists spotted a young Oryx running around with a Mountain Lyon impaled on its horns.

Mystery solved!

Oryx do have a temper, don't honk your horn at one blocking the road. Rancher Johnson had one put two nice size holes in his radiator!

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from jwg123 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Wet springs kill more Pheasant chicks then anything.Believe me I've been doing this for 30 yrs.

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from fliphuntr14 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Ecology is a complete science, gifford and Pincot and Aldo leopold understood this thats why we have forestry management cutting old growth and stopping fires only to do controlled burns to allow new growth and the ecosystem to grow and expand. Grass lands especially need to be harvested and put in place rotationally so that the birds can rebound and the natural prairie grasses can take hold again. Diversity is important and eventually in area's like the ones mentioned will be overcome by one grass type that is the most successful due to there life cycles and to the interactions, such as farming, we have with the land . I think the best thing someone who wants to see more birds can do is volunteer with there local conservation groups, like pheasants forever. Killing predators is important but only to keep them in check not completely eliminate them.

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from Chris Cowan wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Hear this all the time. I was talking to an older hunter who was telling me that 40, 50 years agohe andhis buddies would shoot between 50 an 70 ptarmigan per season. Each. Now, he said, the foxes get them all and there aren't any left. I've heard foxes, seagulls, whatever. Unregulated overhunting and market hunting are to blame, but it won't stop people from finding excuses.

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from 60256 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

In regards to all the CRP getting torn up for corn, those problems can be described in one word: ethanol.

Nate

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from WA Mtnhunter wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Ishawooa,

It will be cold day in Hell before I sell my Weatherby's and buy Taylor-Mades! LOL

As long as I can walk, I'll hunt. It's all about the habitat and the abuse and loss thereof that hammers our game. JMO

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from white bison wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I agree..habitat is mostly to blame.
Clay Cooper...Oryx have speared African Lions...in fact Oryx tend to not prey on Oryx because they know the risk of those spike horns. There have been African Lions dead,
speared by an Oryx with the Oryx dead too. Yet, Lions like to attack Cape Buffalo...but apparently not as risky as Oryx! Also, Roan are very feisty...if you shoot a Roan or Oryx...be plenty sure they are dead before getting near to look at your trophy!
Best Regards,
Tom from Cody

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from Oryx wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

We are pretty tough.

I'll match-up with any animal, except for the Varigated Western Mother-in-Law.

Game off on that one. They scare me.

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from bluegraytx wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Down here in the south where the fire ant thrives it's virtually impossible for anything hatched on the ground to survive.

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from white bison wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I meant to say..."Lion" tend not to prey on Oryx...my typo
error.
Best Regards,

Tom

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from RES1956 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Raptors and predators, Nah. Old, non-productive CRP, bad winters and wet springs, yeah, that has merit. I can't believe enough CRP was turned into corn to affect the population, but when combined with the other factors, well, ya, maybe.
A good controlled burn would do more good than anything to restore the worth of those tangles. Looks like this winter is gonna be pretty mild, combine that with a dry spring and you will see numbers back like they should be.
A mammoth home improvement project is what Iowa pheasants really need to help things out, and it all starts with a match.

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

A really dry spring is no good either. Stunts the new grass which leaves insufficient cover for the chicks. Like I said, central Montana supposedly had one of the longest springs on record but I didn't find the bird populations were hurt that much. Sharptails were in fact in abundance. Go figure!

Bernie, many of the landowners in central Montana where I hunt specifically will not allow hunters to shoot sage grouse (even if they did see one!). I haven't seen a sage hen for years. But then again, I don't go looking for them. One rancher has some on his place in the spring and takes his kids up to watch them do the courtship dance. He didn't volunteer to tell me where and I didn't ask. Anything shot that's older than this year's bird is pretty much fertilizer for the garden anyway. I'm with you: I have no idea why Montana even has a sage hen season at all. Can't remember when I last talked to someone who had shot one.

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from tom warner wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I hunted western Nebraska for many years beginning in the late 50's. The pheasant population was huge. We would limit out each day within a hour of two. I think that I recall that it was 5 cocks a day then. There were hawks all over the place, BUT there was also plenty of cover in hedgerows, canyons, fallow land and messy Corn and Milo fields. Then clean farming came in, herbicides, pesticides, COVER was progressively eliminated, and all the birds began to disappear. Our farmer/rancher pal who we hunted with could not figure out what was happening. When we attempted to tell him, he would not listen, assigning the difficulty to any factors but the real one; and oh yes, predators were killing all the birds too! He had slowly disposed of virtually all the nesting and escape cover on his thousands of acres. If there are many birds of prey around and few Pheasants, the raptors must be living on something, and it's not game birds. Hawks will go elsewhere in the absence of food and their numbers will diminish. In a healthy ecosystem there will be lots of game along with plenty of predators. That is the way it all functioned before we came along and screwed everything up.

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from Wags wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

That is the number one excuse I hear in Indiana when it comes to declining quail populations. Just too many coyotes. Never mind the fact that every fence row has been systematically cut out and bulldozed smooth. Where there once 15 feet of undergrowth there is now a two foot wide row of fescue. But it is the coyotes. My uncle has a farm that should be a case study. He put some of the unproductive areas in the quail habitat restoration program. Just a little proper habitat and low and behold, two strong coveys. And there is still plenty of ground to grow that $6 corn (that still yields the same or less profit since the input costs are so high). The real culprit, in my humble opinion, is the nest robbing fur bearers that are no longer hunted or trapped. A coyote or over abundant hawk (and make no mistake, those are all over) get the occasional bird. In one night a coon can wipe out an entire clutch of eggs. That and those daggone feral cats!!

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from Trapper Vic wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

People are hell bent on killing coyotes, They are the number 1 predator for nesting predators (fox, snakes, coons, feral cats, skunks, possums ect.). Once chicks are hatched their survival rate triples. If the eggs don't hatch , no birds! A pheasant will nest only once, if its nest is destroyed then there are no pheasants. If a Quail nest is destroyed they will nest again and again until fall trying to raise a brood. In Ohio, the red tail hawk and the coopers hawk are the number 1 enemy of pheasants and Quail respectively.They are also protected. Thats why edge feathering along crp is so important. Any tree in the fence row over 10 feet high should be cut down to prevent perches for hawks.

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from charlie elk wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

No question about it habitat in many areas is degraded forcing animals & birds to live in close quarters making them easy prey for predators.
Several studies in MN done by the U of M indicate that a few predators can have a huge impact in marginal habitat.

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from MOturkey wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

In Missouri I place a lot of blame on 2 top factors - Coons and the invention of Round Up. I do not have any data on the coon population but they eat a TON of eggs. If you want more turkeys kill egg eaters and I am sure the same goes for Quail/Pheasant. I've seen this work first hand. The fix is simple, improve habitat, remove predators.

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from Basheer Benhalim wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Well, what confuses me about the whole wildlife comment vs predator comment is that coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions are all WILDLIFE!!! So don't be ignorant please. That being said I love to hunt coyotes! Stewardship of the land whether it be public or private is the responsibility of those of us who use it!

That includes managing the habitat for wildlife. Let's not be the hunting buddy who shows up to hunt the prime spot but hasn't done any of the work to make it so.

Also, Texas Parks and Wildlife has a lot of great information on Quail habitat loss and what can be done.

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from Sayfu wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Flew through the posts, and saw some good points...feral farm cats. A farmer can have 20 of those darn things to kill mice/rats, and they hunt the ditches during nesting season. And if you have an area with planted birds?..they don't live long. Game guys told me they live an average of about 6 hrs. Predatory hawks, and owls are very effective at dining on planted birds. And the corn/oil subsidy? MY GAWD! Get rid of that crap! The unintended consequences are overwhelming!!

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from tleichty1989 wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

I agree with 007 I think the farm cat population has a lot to do with the lack of pheasants here in Iowa. Some of my favorite hunting memories come from hunting pheasants with my grandpa and dad. Today we are incubating and planting grasses to try and bring back the natural abundance of pheasant. Hopefully someday soon we can see a rise back to what it once was.

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from Linda Szymczak Tolle wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

I am not a hunter & I realize that you folks are talking about the lack of hunting birds, however check this out: Live in Indiana. I noticed that I hadn't seen my beautiful bright red cardinal for a few days, although he hasn't missed a day of singing in my front trees in months. I have been feeding the local wild life for the 11 yrs that I have lived here (birds, squirrels, the occasional raccoon, a little possum once a year and a local population of feral cats (3 regulars & during the heat of the only female a foreign stray male for a few days). I realize that you blame the furry meat eater creatures for the lack of birds, but after 11 years, I can tell you that they haven't put a dent in the local bird population. However, my bird feeders have gone untouched for two days, even the squirrels who raid the corn from one haven't since I filled them. Today, I realized that I was not greeted by any of the sparrows, wrens, black birds, cardinals, family of 7 doves that are normally in the bushes when I drive into the driveway. Not one bird of any kind is in any of the trees, bushes or rooftops in this area...not a one! No squirrels rushed to the bread crumbs I threw out this morning & that is usually gone in 10 minutes & I saw one feral cat slinking next to the house in a fearful manner earlier this morning. So, what explanation can I get from you guys? It is eerie.

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from ejunk wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

wish I had a dollar for every time I heard somebody complain about "(insert predator here) killin' all the (insert game species here)."

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from 007 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I agree with the predator concern, up to a point. Like Bryan01, I too see the coyotes as a threat to our wildlife, but something you don't hear mentioned too often is feral housecats. I once read in a farming magazine, and a short time later in a hunting mag, that feral housecats take more small game in a year than does man. Mom had a big persian once that was not above bringing in full grown gray squirrels. No idea how he caught them, but he must have been good at it.

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from Brian Robinson wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Economics are doing more damage to game populations than anything else. Corn, gas wells ect ect

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from sdditchpig wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

The biggest preditor in the corn belt, is a farmer with a plow. With land at 6,7,8, thousand dollars an acre, the days of the poor farmer are over. You as a tax payer, have bought into the ethanol fiasco, to the point where, not only are your birds in jepordy, but your water supply is soon to be a problem. You cannot intensly farm corn, with the inputs, of pesticide, and fertilizer, and not have a long term effect, on the enviornment. I love to see hawks, and coyotes hunting, it's a sign of productive, healthy, hunting ground. I drive around the ehanol pump, and always have.

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from Sarge01 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Los of habit or loss of quality habitat is the problem not only with game birds but with deer and other big game. Our hardwood forests here in the east eventually grow away from the deer and turkeys and we wonder where they went. Big mature oaks and other trees with no cover or browse don't make very good habitat for our deer. Throw in a couple bad winters with no acorns and the deer herd suffers. We didn't have very many acorns this year so our deer will suffer this winter if we have much snow.

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from tourneyking734 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I remember reading a couple of years ago about hunting partridge in maine. What the article said was that the birds that got shot by hunters, were the same ones (on average) that got killed by predators. That is, the same amount generally gets killed, regardless of it be by predators, hunters, or poor weather. That's just the way it is.

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from DSMbirddog wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Predators are certainly part of the equation but like most things, you can't isolate one determining factor. Good habitat and good cover also makes predators less effective it also allows birds to make it through tough winters. I've lived in Iowa my entire life and seen ups and downs in bird populations but nothing like it has been the last several years.

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from auburn_hunter wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

@sarge01 -
I feel for you, but here in AL, we had a banner year of acorn production, so much so that this past weekend I observed greenfields so lush they looked and felt underfoot like carpet...untouched. I got skunked on both a morning and afternoon hunt Saturday, but it still beat a day in the office.

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I have watched hawks go after pheasans with very limited success. As one example: this fall just a few minutes before my older lab ripped open her shoulder on a barbed wire fence and finally ended our season, the other two dogs put up several birds on the other side. A good-sized hawk was right on a rooster but couldn't bring it down. He was still squawking as he flew outa sight so I'm guessing he made it okay. I have also watched hawks knock down or grapple with ducks and still lose them.

When I checked in to hunt one of my favorite spots this fall, I mentioned to the rancher that we noticed four or five coyotes in the draw north of his house. He said leave em alone (not that we planned on wasting any ammo shooting them). They do more damage to the mice and prairie dogs in his hay fields than to his calves. And any minor damage they might do to the deer population was a bonus for him. Antler-addicted hunters weren't doing enough to keep the latter in check.

I have seen the quality of pheasant hunting in central Montana drop precipitously the last few years due mostly to poor weather (and that's pretty obvious). BUT THE DAILY AND POSSESSION LIMITS HAVE NOT DROPPED. Someone please explain that logic to me!

This is blog poses an interesting theory. I have also heard that introduction of turkeys is hard on pheasant environments because turkey's are so thorough about stripping the undergrowth. Is this fact or legend?

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from SD Bob wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I earn my living selling guns and such to pheasant hunters so I pay close attention to what's going on. I have friends who draw their paychecks from the game fish and parks so I ask them about such stuff quite a bit. They tell me that coyotes are primarily eaters of mammals but of course they eat some birds. Avian predators eat lots of pheasants. A good indicator that there are lots of pheasants around is lots of pheasant eating hawks and falcons so if you don't see any? Your hunting will probably be bad! Weather is the quickest way to drop a population. If your state is all giddy about great duck recruitment from heavy spring and summer rains, expect the uplands to be less productive and go hunt ducks instead.

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from IowaGuy wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Excellent post, tough winters and $6 corn has destroyed bird hunting on IA

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from jwg123 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Wet springs kill more Pheasant chicks then anything.Believe me I've been doing this for 30 yrs.

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from RES1956 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Raptors and predators, Nah. Old, non-productive CRP, bad winters and wet springs, yeah, that has merit. I can't believe enough CRP was turned into corn to affect the population, but when combined with the other factors, well, ya, maybe.
A good controlled burn would do more good than anything to restore the worth of those tangles. Looks like this winter is gonna be pretty mild, combine that with a dry spring and you will see numbers back like they should be.
A mammoth home improvement project is what Iowa pheasants really need to help things out, and it all starts with a match.

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from charlie elk wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

No question about it habitat in many areas is degraded forcing animals & birds to live in close quarters making them easy prey for predators.
Several studies in MN done by the U of M indicate that a few predators can have a huge impact in marginal habitat.

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from stick500 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Phil lives in Iowa?
I remember well the great hunting IA used to have and have heard all the theories about why they're gone- this deal about the grass changing is a new one to me.
Hopefully, we can get back somewhere where we used to be someday- my dad has a lifetime hunting license that I don't know if we'll ever bother using again.

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from ableskeever wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Wind turbines are predators.

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from ishawooa wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I am not seeing many places in this country where game of all kinds is not on the decline for various reasons. Petzal's recent comments regarding the absence of big deer is an example. I could wax long and viciously on this topic but few listen and not many in authority seem to care. The decline in Wyoming has been going on for about 20 years and I don't recognize any improvement in the future. Poor land management, unacceptable rules and regulations, unneeded federal laws, introduction and mis-management of alien wolves, poor management of grizzlies, a tremendous number of predators both on ground and in the air, noxious weeds, draughts, long cold and wet winters, disease (now local elk have brucellilocious. CWD, and perhaps tuberculosis, sometimes conjunctivitis shows up in the bighorn sheep causing blindness, and "blue tongue" in the deer), I heard overuse of the rangelands both in the desert and the mountains is a problem, and other factors. Ultimately the majority of Americans don't care and had rather see us hunters sell our Weatherbys and buy a set of Taylor-mades anyway. That would be the politically correct manner for us to react according to the thinking of many non-hunters/non-shooters.

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from FloridaHunter1226 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Just like everything, you have good years and you have bad years. It's weird how a location can provide such a great habitat for the birds and then be such a terrible habitat for them years later.

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from Bernie wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Ontario Honker: I used to work for Montana FWP and can tell you that the biologists' mentality is that when bird populations are low, things will sort themselves out--e.g., fewer hunters will pursue birds. I was an information officer and am not sure I agree with that assessment. On the other hand, when pheasant numbers are high, as in North Dakota in 2009 and 2010, the ND Game & Fish Dept. kept the bag limit at three birds per day, 12 in possession. Sure as hell, a rough winter wiped out the pheasants. I believe they should have increased the limit to five per day during the last month of the season. But they apparently prefer to leave winter-killed pheasants to predators.

Something that might interest you--I remember when eight or ten years ago preservationists were clamoring to list the sage grouse on the Endangered Species List. (They still are!) Montana's response was to INCREASE the daily limit on sage grouse! Inexplicable!

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from 2lb.test wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Phil, I understand your frustration with the predator blamers but I do believe that years of hawk protection make average cover into marginal cover for quail. (I can't comment on pheasants as I live in SC.) The exceptional number of hawks makes it difficult to manage quail habitat because the suitable habitat usually ends at your property line. There is no matrix of habitat that allows birds to intersperse and spread genetic diversity. While hawk habitat does have a huge matrix, (there are hawks everywhere breeding.) Hawks that are good at hunting birds are able to spread those genes to other greater numbers of offspring.

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from fliphuntr14 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Ecology is a complete science, gifford and Pincot and Aldo leopold understood this thats why we have forestry management cutting old growth and stopping fires only to do controlled burns to allow new growth and the ecosystem to grow and expand. Grass lands especially need to be harvested and put in place rotationally so that the birds can rebound and the natural prairie grasses can take hold again. Diversity is important and eventually in area's like the ones mentioned will be overcome by one grass type that is the most successful due to there life cycles and to the interactions, such as farming, we have with the land . I think the best thing someone who wants to see more birds can do is volunteer with there local conservation groups, like pheasants forever. Killing predators is important but only to keep them in check not completely eliminate them.

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from WA Mtnhunter wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Ishawooa,

It will be cold day in Hell before I sell my Weatherby's and buy Taylor-Mades! LOL

As long as I can walk, I'll hunt. It's all about the habitat and the abuse and loss thereof that hammers our game. JMO

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from Wags wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

That is the number one excuse I hear in Indiana when it comes to declining quail populations. Just too many coyotes. Never mind the fact that every fence row has been systematically cut out and bulldozed smooth. Where there once 15 feet of undergrowth there is now a two foot wide row of fescue. But it is the coyotes. My uncle has a farm that should be a case study. He put some of the unproductive areas in the quail habitat restoration program. Just a little proper habitat and low and behold, two strong coveys. And there is still plenty of ground to grow that $6 corn (that still yields the same or less profit since the input costs are so high). The real culprit, in my humble opinion, is the nest robbing fur bearers that are no longer hunted or trapped. A coyote or over abundant hawk (and make no mistake, those are all over) get the occasional bird. In one night a coon can wipe out an entire clutch of eggs. That and those daggone feral cats!!

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from MOturkey wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

In Missouri I place a lot of blame on 2 top factors - Coons and the invention of Round Up. I do not have any data on the coon population but they eat a TON of eggs. If you want more turkeys kill egg eaters and I am sure the same goes for Quail/Pheasant. I've seen this work first hand. The fix is simple, improve habitat, remove predators.

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from Bryan01 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I agree that the major threat to most game species is loss of habitat, but predators are also an issue. Not that I want to go back to the old days of DDT, but there weren't as many hawks and other birds of prey back then as there are now - and they eat more than mice. More signicantly, the coyote population has increased in a large number of areas. Saying it's all about the predators is an incorrect oversimplification, but to imply that the increase in predator population doesn't have an impact is an equally incorrect oversimplification.

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from Brian Jackson wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

So what you are saying is that CRP fields eat pheasants? I knew it!

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from Tony C. wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Sorry to hear of the decline of Iowa pheasants. I deer hunted southeastern Iowa in 1999 and again in 2000 and pheasants were everywhere. I remember thinking a kid with a shotgun could have a ball on the farm I hunted. I saw mallards, turkeys, geese, pheasants, fox squirrels and the biggest rabbits I have ever seen in my life. It was just a gamey place.

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from Clay Cooper wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Back in 85, Mack Thompson and I was helping one of our friends on an antelope hunt on Johnson Ranch just north of Carrizozo New Mexico. We ran into a Game Warden and he told us a story about finding mountain lions dead out on White Sands Missile Range with a one to two bullet holes in them. Never once could they figure out who was allowed into those restricted areas and never recovered a bullet one. One day, one of the Biologists spotted a young Oryx running around with a Mountain Lyon impaled on its horns.

Mystery solved!

Oryx do have a temper, don't honk your horn at one blocking the road. Rancher Johnson had one put two nice size holes in his radiator!

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from Chris Cowan wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Hear this all the time. I was talking to an older hunter who was telling me that 40, 50 years agohe andhis buddies would shoot between 50 an 70 ptarmigan per season. Each. Now, he said, the foxes get them all and there aren't any left. I've heard foxes, seagulls, whatever. Unregulated overhunting and market hunting are to blame, but it won't stop people from finding excuses.

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from 60256 wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

In regards to all the CRP getting torn up for corn, those problems can be described in one word: ethanol.

Nate

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from white bison wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I agree..habitat is mostly to blame.
Clay Cooper...Oryx have speared African Lions...in fact Oryx tend to not prey on Oryx because they know the risk of those spike horns. There have been African Lions dead,
speared by an Oryx with the Oryx dead too. Yet, Lions like to attack Cape Buffalo...but apparently not as risky as Oryx! Also, Roan are very feisty...if you shoot a Roan or Oryx...be plenty sure they are dead before getting near to look at your trophy!
Best Regards,
Tom from Cody

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from Oryx wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

We are pretty tough.

I'll match-up with any animal, except for the Varigated Western Mother-in-Law.

Game off on that one. They scare me.

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from bluegraytx wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Down here in the south where the fire ant thrives it's virtually impossible for anything hatched on the ground to survive.

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from white bison wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I meant to say..."Lion" tend not to prey on Oryx...my typo
error.
Best Regards,

Tom

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from Ontario Honker ... wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

A really dry spring is no good either. Stunts the new grass which leaves insufficient cover for the chicks. Like I said, central Montana supposedly had one of the longest springs on record but I didn't find the bird populations were hurt that much. Sharptails were in fact in abundance. Go figure!

Bernie, many of the landowners in central Montana where I hunt specifically will not allow hunters to shoot sage grouse (even if they did see one!). I haven't seen a sage hen for years. But then again, I don't go looking for them. One rancher has some on his place in the spring and takes his kids up to watch them do the courtship dance. He didn't volunteer to tell me where and I didn't ask. Anything shot that's older than this year's bird is pretty much fertilizer for the garden anyway. I'm with you: I have no idea why Montana even has a sage hen season at all. Can't remember when I last talked to someone who had shot one.

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from tom warner wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

I hunted western Nebraska for many years beginning in the late 50's. The pheasant population was huge. We would limit out each day within a hour of two. I think that I recall that it was 5 cocks a day then. There were hawks all over the place, BUT there was also plenty of cover in hedgerows, canyons, fallow land and messy Corn and Milo fields. Then clean farming came in, herbicides, pesticides, COVER was progressively eliminated, and all the birds began to disappear. Our farmer/rancher pal who we hunted with could not figure out what was happening. When we attempted to tell him, he would not listen, assigning the difficulty to any factors but the real one; and oh yes, predators were killing all the birds too! He had slowly disposed of virtually all the nesting and escape cover on his thousands of acres. If there are many birds of prey around and few Pheasants, the raptors must be living on something, and it's not game birds. Hawks will go elsewhere in the absence of food and their numbers will diminish. In a healthy ecosystem there will be lots of game along with plenty of predators. That is the way it all functioned before we came along and screwed everything up.

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from Trapper Vic wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

People are hell bent on killing coyotes, They are the number 1 predator for nesting predators (fox, snakes, coons, feral cats, skunks, possums ect.). Once chicks are hatched their survival rate triples. If the eggs don't hatch , no birds! A pheasant will nest only once, if its nest is destroyed then there are no pheasants. If a Quail nest is destroyed they will nest again and again until fall trying to raise a brood. In Ohio, the red tail hawk and the coopers hawk are the number 1 enemy of pheasants and Quail respectively.They are also protected. Thats why edge feathering along crp is so important. Any tree in the fence row over 10 feet high should be cut down to prevent perches for hawks.

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from Basheer Benhalim wrote 2 years 17 weeks ago

Well, what confuses me about the whole wildlife comment vs predator comment is that coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions are all WILDLIFE!!! So don't be ignorant please. That being said I love to hunt coyotes! Stewardship of the land whether it be public or private is the responsibility of those of us who use it!

That includes managing the habitat for wildlife. Let's not be the hunting buddy who shows up to hunt the prime spot but hasn't done any of the work to make it so.

Also, Texas Parks and Wildlife has a lot of great information on Quail habitat loss and what can be done.

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from Sayfu wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

Flew through the posts, and saw some good points...feral farm cats. A farmer can have 20 of those darn things to kill mice/rats, and they hunt the ditches during nesting season. And if you have an area with planted birds?..they don't live long. Game guys told me they live an average of about 6 hrs. Predatory hawks, and owls are very effective at dining on planted birds. And the corn/oil subsidy? MY GAWD! Get rid of that crap! The unintended consequences are overwhelming!!

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from tleichty1989 wrote 2 years 16 weeks ago

I agree with 007 I think the farm cat population has a lot to do with the lack of pheasants here in Iowa. Some of my favorite hunting memories come from hunting pheasants with my grandpa and dad. Today we are incubating and planting grasses to try and bring back the natural abundance of pheasant. Hopefully someday soon we can see a rise back to what it once was.

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from Linda Szymczak Tolle wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

I am not a hunter & I realize that you folks are talking about the lack of hunting birds, however check this out: Live in Indiana. I noticed that I hadn't seen my beautiful bright red cardinal for a few days, although he hasn't missed a day of singing in my front trees in months. I have been feeding the local wild life for the 11 yrs that I have lived here (birds, squirrels, the occasional raccoon, a little possum once a year and a local population of feral cats (3 regulars & during the heat of the only female a foreign stray male for a few days). I realize that you blame the furry meat eater creatures for the lack of birds, but after 11 years, I can tell you that they haven't put a dent in the local bird population. However, my bird feeders have gone untouched for two days, even the squirrels who raid the corn from one haven't since I filled them. Today, I realized that I was not greeted by any of the sparrows, wrens, black birds, cardinals, family of 7 doves that are normally in the bushes when I drive into the driveway. Not one bird of any kind is in any of the trees, bushes or rooftops in this area...not a one! No squirrels rushed to the bread crumbs I threw out this morning & that is usually gone in 10 minutes & I saw one feral cat slinking next to the house in a fearful manner earlier this morning. So, what explanation can I get from you guys? It is eerie.

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