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The state of our birds


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I've often read that Bobwhite quail were actually less plentiful in pre colonization days. I always wonder if that is true and by how much.

I've also wondered about pre colonization and timber harvest areas and ruffed grouse. Obviously early successional habitats existed from natural causes before we came along with axes and chainsaws but I wonder how the two compaired in terms of total acreage and bird numbers?

I guess in some cases I wouldn't be shocked to find that dramatic declines are only in reference to artificially created  highs. Of course you don't want to let the species keep declining if you can help it, it's just sometimes difficult to tell what reasonable expectations of overall populations should be.

I also wonder when the real underlying problem driving almost every single environmental problem we have will be talked about in the mainstream: Population growth.

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Not 'the' answer for sure nor will there an easy one...........but....

Richard Pace----Woodcock research on wintering woodcock--telemetered birds.

51% mortality attributed to owls

17% mortality arrtibuted to hunting.

Yes, only one study.  There are many others but I'm not gonna' go your homework for you.

If you don't think limiting predation increases game birds, you've been in town too long..............

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If you don't think limiting predation increases game birds, you've been in town too long..............

Limiting predation may increase game birds, but then you're @%^#ing with a much bigger balance, imo. I'm a dedicated bird hunter, but not to the extent that I'm willing to support killing owls and hawks to have more game birds for my enjoyment around (not to mention its a federal offense). Predators are essential to any healthy ecosystem, and I think the less we meddle in "managing" one species in favor of our preference for another, the better.

I'd rather put effort into advocating for more habitat protection, which I think will have a far greater beneficial impact in the big picture.

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bosco mctavitch
Not 'the' answer for sure nor will there an easy one...........but....

Richard Pace----Woodcock research on wintering woodcock--telemetered birds.

51% mortality attributed to owls

17% mortality arrtibuted to hunting.

Yes, only one study.  There are many others but I'm not gonna' go your homework for you.

If you don't think limiting predation increases game birds, you've been in town too long..............

Of course...no one is suggesting otherwise that I can tell.  But there have been predators since Al Gore invented time itself, given a healthy population of predators and prey the amount--whether it's 51% or any other number--should be constant...witness the concurrent population cycles of ruffed grouse and goshawks.  There's a good bet that balance is off, but my suspicion is that other factors play a larger role in the CHANGES we are seeing.  Certainly the natural population of predators was suppressed over the past half-centry or more, so an increase in mortality by predadors seems to me to be a natural result of predators returning to a more natural population level...if we are to debate this I would think that debating what those natural population levels are, were, and should be is an integral part of that conversation.  Plus, it's not as if humans haven't altered the landscape through the use of agriculture, fire, etc since long before us white dudes showed up...so I suspect that arriving at a picture of the "natural" populations of predator and prey will be difficult if not impossible.

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I'm a dedicated bird hunter, but not to the extent that I'm willing to support killing owls and hawks to have more game birds for my enjoyment around (not to mention its a federal offense).

I'm not advocating breaking laws, however, laws can be changed.  If the purpose is to stop the decline of game birds, raptor control must be considered as part of the mix.  Hawks and owls have been protected since 1972, have game bird populations increased or decreased since that time?

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bosco mctavitch

Fat-free food consumption has increased during the past 20 years, yet childhood obesity is at an all-time high...so if we are to do anything about childhood obesity we must consider banning fat-free food as a part of the solution.

perhaps not the best example as it's a bit ridiculous, but the reasoning is similar...it shows a surficial correlation that may very well be there, but the relationship is not necessarily causal, and other factors may very well be overwhelmingly more important.  Not to mention the fact that there has not been a discussion over what the target should be for gamebird populations...IS higher populations the goal, or is a nore natural population the goal?  I'm not arguing that one or the other is right or wrong or anything, just that it seems fairly obvious to me that the higher populations in the recnt 50 years were probably unnaturally overinflated by a hyperabundance of habitat that may very well never happen again in anyones lifetimes.

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51% mortality attributed to owls

17% mortality arrtibuted to hunting.

Can you provide more details on your data.

For example are you saying 68% of all the birds they monitored were killed? I'm guessing not.

My guess is of all the birds they were monitoring, some smaller percetage were killed, and of those that were killed 51% were by owls.

Just about every study I have ever seen on game birds has the majority of ADULT mortality due to avian predators.

There is a lot more to bird populations than adult mortality. If adult mortality was the major driver in game bird populations, restricting human hunting would probably have a lot more impact than it does.

What I don't agree with on Raptors is the complete lack of management. Like it or not we manage basically all of our species. Even a hands off "no management" plan is not even remotely "natural", not when we have some 300 million humans tramping around this country.

When you put in politically driven measures that restrict management options for state agencies it seems to cause problems and headaches in the balance of things. It's frustrating to have abosuletly no management control on some predator species while their prey species aren't doing so well. Is it reasonable to have record lows of bobwhite quail while we very high cooper hawk pops? I don't know, but personally I don't think a complete nation-wide ban on any raptor management whatsoever is any more reasonable than a complete shoot-on-site extintion plan.

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Matt Crawford

Couple of points -

Bosco, we have the "asbestos forest" here in the Northeast - and a very limited number of  fire-dependent species (we don't have a lot of jack pine for instance). So my semi-uneducated hypothesis is that fire played but a minor role in natural process that created early successional in the pre-colonial day in the Northern Forest. That's backed up by a UNH study - in the abstract is this:

Natural disturbance regimes have been recommended as a baseline that managers should consider while providing thicket habitats. Within the Northeast, historic disturbance regimes varied substantially among forest types. Coastal regions were characterized by extensive barrens where regular and often times large-scale disturbances that resulted in >15% of the area being covered by regenerating forest stands. Among inland forests, natural disturbances were usually small and resulted in seedling-sapling stands and beaver (Castor canadensis) impoundments covering <6% of the area. Under these conditions, thicket-affiliated species were probably distributed in small, disjunct populations that shifted in space and time.

The second point...I wonder if, say, woodcock predation figures are actually increasing in the 21st century not because of more predators, but because of a net loss of prime habitat that provides cover and safety.

Which goes to the point of several of us in this thread it appears. It ain't about how many hawks are on the tree, it's really about what kind of habitat that tree is growing in.

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Fat-free food consumption has increased during the past 20 years, yet childhood obesity is at an all-time high...so if we are to do anything about childhood obesity we must consider banning fat-free food as a part of the solution.

Poor analogy.

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Raptor protection since the early 70's may coincide with a decline in game birds during that time, but doesn't necessarily make it the primary cause. You could just as easily say that "X" number of millions of acres of habitat have been lost during that time as well.

I don't think there is any one, blanket solution. We're talking about lots of different environments, different species of game birds with different requirements, etc. For example, there is no logging in our local forest and hasn't been for a long time, but there are still plentiful grouse populations.

But whenever someone jumps to the conclusion that the problem is predators that have been around, and somehow existed in balance with prey, since long before man showed on the scene, I'm inclined to look at other, typically man-made, reasons first. And generally, those reasons have had a far greater impact.

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Matt Crawford

Hawks and owls have been protected since 1972, have game bird populations increased or decreased since that time?

Depends.

In South Dakota, we know pheasant populations have been at record levels in recent years.

Take last year for instance

And that would assume raptors only eat gamebirds. But I know for certain that falcons would just as soon eat a pigeon as a gadwall.

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bosco mctavitch
Fat-free food consumption has increased during the past 20 years, yet childhood obesity is at an all-time high...so if we are to do anything about childhood obesity we must consider banning fat-free food as a part of the solution.

perhaps not the best example as it's a bit ridiculous, but the reasoning is similar...it shows a surficial correlation that may very well be there, but the relationship is not necessarily causal, and other factors may very well be overwhelmingly more important.  Not to mention the fact that there has not been a discussion over what the target should be for gamebird populations...IS higher populations the goal, or is a nore natural population the goal?  I'm not arguing that one or the other is right or wrong or anything, just that it seems fairly obvious to me that the higher populations in the recnt 50 years were probably unnaturally overinflated by a hyperabundance of habitat that may very well never happen again in anyones lifetimes.

Sorry, edited it as I know it's a poor analogy, only meant to point out that there's a lot more to it than the original analogy seemed to assume.

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I hate fat free food.

Habitat is a huge issue but so are raptors and nest predators.  I just pointing it out - I don't have a desire to shoot one.

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Habitat is a huge issue but so are raptors and nest predators.  

Sure, raptors have been a factor since the first raptor came on the scene - that's what they do. But the question as I see it is, "how much of a factor?" Are they a detrimental factor beyond what would be considered normal predation for a given environment? And how do we determine what that traditionally was before we got involved?

I still don't see how there could be more hawks than prey that is available - the two keep each other in check. Maybe that doesn't yield as many game birds as dear old pappy remembered back when a good day in the field meant dropping any hawks that you saw as well, but so be it.

I still think there are far larger issues affecting game birds in most areas than predation.

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bosco mctavitch
Too bad Rhode island is off the grid...one of the tidbits I do recall I THINK from him was that predation-related mortality in ruffed grouse was dependant on the SIZE of the cover they lived in...small covers led to a higher raate of predation than larger covers...so protecting and establishing good larger covers can actually cut into the predation without doing anytihg at all to the population of predators (except as less easy hunting would naturally affect it).
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