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The lonely lowdown on upland birds

Bob Fala
Outdoors Columnist

11 months 27 days 4 hours ago |188 Views | | | Email | Print

Upland birds were the mainstay of many a youthful day and that of a generation or two before us. So let’s just say that folks that are fifty or older can no doubt remember those halcyon days quite well. Sure, there weren’t as many deer, bear and turkeys but we can still long for a little wing-shooting action, can’t we?


We’re talking the likes of Bobwhite quail in these parts, ring-necked pheasants just to the north and places in between with good numbers of both. Lamenting this well documented decline in a recent issue of Pointing Dog Journal, writer Dave Smith labels the two former game bird heavyweights as “recreationally extinct” in the eastern U. S.


He couldn’t have said it any better. Unfortunately, he’s right. Citing hunter declines to the tune of 80 to 90 percent at prime quail states from Georgia to Missouri just since the 1960’s, interest has flown the coup right along with the birds. Nowadays, quail hunting in the east is all but limited to tame or pen-reared birds. Ouch!


For West Virginia’s bread and butter of a wild upland bird in the ruffed grouse, we haven’t quite downgraded it to recreationally extinct. However, it’s been described here as at barely huntable population levels for quite some time. We can only hope that they too are not creeping toward the more dastardly status of recreationally extinct. For another terrible turn of the bad news pages on upland birds, the sage grouse of the west is actually being considered for the endangered species list!


Reasons for the decline of the quail and ring-necks of the east are directly linked to the massive decline in small backyard, truck farms like the kind I worked on as a kid. These farms have disappeared by the hundreds of thousands since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. The mom and pop farms here simply grew out of quail cover when the farming ceased. They then grew into brushy cover that the ruffed grouse liked and finally to the present saw-timber on the statewide level. The saw-timber in turn is more suitable to squirrels and pileated woodpeckers than upland game birds.


What’s more, things are starting to take a turn for the worse in the Farm Belt states where the quail and ringnecks had actually been holding their ground. With the ethanol for our gas tanks now taking up some forty percent of the national corn crop and prices per bushel of the yellow kernels through the roof, the loss of suitable farm game habitat is now expanding westward. For the prime example, Iowa is experiencing a massive scale conversion of its Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) hay land acreage back into corn production to satisfy the market demand. This in turn is seriously impacting the game bird situation there.


Too much corn and not enough nesting and escape cover hay land for the birds can be a bummer of the upland kind. The same effect is also working its way into Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas. For the good news on upland bird front, sorry folks, there just isn’t much.


P.S. The Logan Area Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation is holding its20th Annual Banquet next Saturday March 16 at the Chief Logan Convention Center. For tickets or further info, contact Roger Wolfe at 687-1713 or Doyle Gore at 239-2025.

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