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The state of our birds


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poorer and less habitat and way way more hawks then there was when I was a kid is a double whammy on birds

Its kind of like most ecological questions to me.. is there really a problem with bird populations or are the lower population levels now occurring actually normal?

Did we inflate bird numbers in the past by indiscriminately killing hawks, have we inflated deer numbers by killing off wolves and cougars ect?

Sure seems to be the case with deer, although they are more adaptable to environment changes like living in suburbs.

I would estimate there are 20 hawks for every one I saw as a kid in the 60's maybe more

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It's all the setters, they're way too efficient bird finders.

Hawks are never the issue; no effect. Like hunting mortality; no effect.

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It's all the setters, they're way too efficient bird finders.

Hawks are never the issue; no effect. Like hunting mortality; no effect.

Nope, just blame it on the illegal immigrants. They live along the roadside, pickin off gamebirds comin out for gravel.

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Check the Audubon Society's list of "Common Birds in Decline,"  released a year or two back.  

http://stateofthebirds.audubon.org/cbid/browseSpecies.php

Number one on the list is Bobwhite Quail.  Their figures estimate a decline of 82 percent, from about 31 million forty years ago, to an estimated 5.5 million today.  Tom Davis wrote an excellent article in the February 2008 Outdoor Classics magazine entitled, "Our Greatest Wildlife Tragedy" based on the report.  He called Bob "The most beloved of all gamebirds.  The one that epitomizes class, that taught us what it means and how the game is supposed to be played."

I guess I spend several thousand dollars a year in various habitat restoration projects on my land.  Quail hunting is a part of my childhood and young adult years that will never come back.

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bosco mctavitch
poorer and less habitat and way way more hawks then there was when I was a kid is a double whammy on birds

Its kind of like most ecological questions to me.. is there really a problem with bird populations or are the lower population levels now occurring actually normal?

Did we inflate bird numbers in the past by indiscriminately killing hawks, have we inflated deer numbers by killing off wolves and cougars ect?

Sure seems to be the case with deer, although they are more adaptable to environment changes like living in suburbs.

I would estimate there are 20 hawks for every one I saw as a kid in the 60's maybe more

I would venture to guess that in the Northeast where I live the fact that at one point nearly all the land was clearcut and much fo it turned to farmland...and then over the last 100 years much of that reverted to forest (i.e. became early succensional) that the last 100 years marked the all-time high point for early succesional habitat.  Combine that with a marked decrease in natural disturbances that might have resulted in naturally-ocurring habitat (fire-supression, overharvest of beavers and destruction of beaver dams, flood control, clean farming, etc) and you have a recipe that I think leads to unrealistic expectations...i.e. we may have too little early succesional habitat now (and I think we do have too little), but I think it's unrealistic that we ever will, or even necessarily SHOULD return to the amount of early succesional habitat experienced over the past 100 years.

I'm wary of controlling hawks...they are a natural part of a birds world, controlling hawks will only lead to some other problem.

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Couple questions:

1) I understand that on a yearly basis you're going to have fluctuations in predator/prey populations, and that in a given year you may have a slightly higher population of one over the other, but can anyone explain how we could have "too many hawks," over the long term, if we have fewer game birds for them to be feeding on? Basic biology says that predator populations are kept in check by availability of prey, right? So why are there supposedly so many hawks if one of their primary prey sources has declined by 47% (according to the study)? Have other raptor prey, such as mice, voles, etc. really increased by enough to not only make up that difference, but actually lead to an increase in raptor populations from what people recall decades ago?

2) Should we be able to continue to expect certain species to flourish at the population levels we're used to, when those species have primarily done so because of logging practices that, for various reasons, are going by the wayside? Or have we just come to expect unnaturally high numbers of those species because of relatively recent resource mgmt. practices?

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Save a raptor, shoot a human... I like it. Bumper sticker time.

QUOTE

Recovery step one - shoot some hawks.

Agree, it's nuts around here. I sit in this chair and there's a redtail sitting on a pole down at the road. There's another hawk of some kind I can see circling the neighbor's field on beyond that, probbly another redtail, pretty big bird. And I was out earlier and there's a big sumbitch I think is thinking about nesting at the back of my woods. It's always on the back side of the woods. *$%&^+#~! Yeah, I know, I should be thankful, theyr'e so lovely to watch. I just love 'em.

DDT. Gets rid of them damn skeeters too.

Ticks? Does it kill ticks? Thinking that might be why there were far fewer of them when I was a kid. Back then if you had a tick on you,you showed it to everyone, just wasn't many of them. How about abusive ranchers? Kill them, too?

Back in the 50s and 60s the farm where I grew up was usually in a cotton dust/ddt fog from early July to the end of August.  A half-dozen old Stearman and Piper Cub airplanes dusting regularly, and more farmers doing it with old 8N Ford tractors.  My Daddy kept an old 8N with a duster permanently attached.  He would dust his cotton, then turn the boom up sideways and go around the house blowing the dust into the shrubbery to keep down mosquitos.  We had no mosquitos, few ticks, and plenty of Quail.  The only ticks we ever saw were the big "dog ticks."   I don't think we really had that many ticks in the woods until the hateful Whitetail Deer were re-introduced.  I wish I had never seen one of the goats, for more reasons than one.

Yeah, we probably have at least five to ten X the hawks we had then.  I doubt whether the increase in raptors has had as much effect on Quail populations as habitat factors, but I know that the 100 acre tract on my farm that used to hold three or four wild coveys now has none, and on many January days, there are six or eight red-tailed hawks patrolling that field.   No way a quail could survive.  

If I had the choice of getting rid of the deer or the hawks, I think I would keep the hawks and let the deer go.

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bosco mctavitch
Couple questions:

1) I understand that on a yearly basis you're going to have fluctuations in predator/prey populations, and that in a given year you may have a slightly higher population of one over the other, but can anyone explain how we could have "too many hawks," over the long term, if we have fewer game birds for them to be feeding on? Basic biology says that predator populations are kept in check by availability of prey, right? So why are there supposedly so many hawks if one of their primary prey sources has declined by 47% (according to the study)? Have other raptor prey, such as mice, voles, etc. really increased by enough to not only make up that difference, but actually lead to an increase in raptor populations from what people recall decades ago?

2) Should we be able to continue to expect certain species to flourish at the population levels we're used to, when those species have primarily done so because of logging practices that, for various reasons, are going by the wayside? Or have we just come to expect unnaturally high numbers of those species because of relatively recent resource mgmt. practices?

On your first point, I can see how diminished populations of other predators (bobcats, foxes, etc) could open up opportunities for hawks.  I don't know that those other predators populations ARE diminished, but can see the possibility of hawks taking over a niche that used to be filled by another animal??

Your second point is exactly what I was getting at--could be logging practices or farming practices or simply widespread reforestation of farms through the 20th century or whatever--either way it's human-created, but the point is the same--are the "former populations" we are comparing today to an overinflated representation of what occurs naturally?

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Couple questions:

1) I understand that on a yearly basis you're going to have fluctuations in predator/prey populations, and that in a given year you may have a slightly higher population of one over the other, but can anyone explain how we could have "too many hawks," over the long term, if we have fewer game birds for them to be feeding on? Basic biology says that predator populations are kept in check by availability of prey, right? So why are there supposedly so many hawks if one of their primary prey sources has declined by 47% (according to the study)? Have other raptor prey, such as mice, voles, etc. really increased by enough to not only make up that difference, but actually lead to an increase in raptor populations from what people recall decades ago?

I'm not a biologist or ecologist, I'm just incredibly good looking but here is my thinking on this:

I'm guess in the numbers of predators would get skewed because their variety of prey has increased.  If quail, for example, declined enough to not be able to support he predators there are two options:

1) predators die from lack or food or from predatory cannibalism

2) predators seek new food sources and widen their repertoire of acceptable edibles.

At one point they may have thrived on said quail but after a decline they started eating other birds/creatures and they begin to thrive because the decline in quail has actually served, eventually, to increase their available food, basically they can thrive regardless of how many quail there are. If they quail are up, they will likely start eating them again because they are there and if you studied the number of predators vs quail it would probably turn up skewed from previous studies but in reality the correlation between their numbers has changed and one may not be as dependent on the other as it used to.

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At one point they may have thrived on said quail but after a decline they started eating other birds/creatures and they begin to thrive because the decline in quail has actually served, eventually, to increase their available food, basically they can thrive regardless of how many quail there are. If they quail are up, they will likely start eating them again because they are there and if you studied the number of predators vs quail it would probably turn up skewed from previous studies but in reality the correlation between their numbers has changed and one may not be as dependent on the other as it used to.

Entirely too realistic to ever be believed, but nice try. It's scary how fast a hawk will nab a training bird in my little field. Bet it's like a treat to them after squirrels, rabbits, and mice.

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Dave Gowdey

Forty years ago was the all time low for raptor populations in the US thanks to shooting by ignorant residents and ddt.  Of course there are more hawks than there were back then - thank goodness.  

If hawks were capable of wiping out bird populations then there must have been almost no game birds in the early days before we really put our back into wiping out hawks.  Unfortunately, history shows us that gamebirds and other birds were unbelievably abundant at the same time that hawks were much more abundant than today.  It's the same ridiculous argument used about wolves - if they were capable of wiping out elk and deer then those species would have disappeared over the last ten thousand years.  

I'd also note that most hawks take relatively few game birds in comparison to rodents and other next raiders.  While red-tails will certainly take a bird where it's easy - they tend to eat far more rats, snakes, and mice.  All in all, they probably help game bird populations more than they hurt them.  

Out west, the animal that kills more game birds than any other is the cow.  If we could shoot cows - now there's something worth shooting.  And they're good eating too!!  

As for successional habitat the problem is that logging tends to cause more environmental problems than it solves.  Indeed, many of the problems experienced in the northern woods today date back to the vast clearcutting done in the 19th century.  Fire remains the most environmentally productive method of restoring successional forests - and state wildlife management agencies need to start using fire as a management tool.  

We recently had a 2,500 acre burn here in an area in which bobwhite still hang on.  I'm wondering what the impact will be in November in what is essentially a subtropic environment.  Will it create better bird habitat, or will the explosion of growth just choke it ?  I'm looking forward to finding out.

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I am no expert on the issue can only go off what I have observed. I think raptors get blamed a bit to much on declining upland bird numbers. Where I do most of my bird hunting in central MT the number of raptors is unbelievable. They are everywhere it is amazing so if they did do to upland bird populations what many believe they do I would never see a single upland bird ever!! But that is not the case, Sage Grouse, Huns, Sharptails, Pheasent are all very plentiful. I think skunks, coons, snakes, and lack of habitat have much more to do with declining bird numbers. JMHO as stated before I am no expert on the subject.
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bosco mctavitch
Dave, I have a question on that, hoping you and some others with knowlege can help.  I know that fire plays a critical role in many areas, but other natural disturbances play roles in other areas.  Logging plays a pretty key role now in many areas where the forests regenerate in aspen, birch and the like and not so much in other areas where it tends to come in as thick balasams, spruce or hemlock.  Is it possible to say that fire plays a key role in all areas, or is it more a regional thing?  For instance, I would have guessed that in the comparatively wet Northeast where I live that beavers in concert with the small stream bottoms they favored played a far more critical role than fire...and in other areas landslides and snow avalanches and other types of catastrophic disturbances play a critical role in regenerating certain forest types, etc.  If indeed as I suspect things will be somewhat out of wack if we don't utilize the naturally occuring disturbances as part of our management, is it possible to really practice effective management given the nature of the human development that would seem to preclude any widespread use of fire, landslide, beavers, etc?
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