Early reports indicate game birds doing better than expected in cold
BY DALE BOWMAN For Sun-Times Media February 11, 2014 10:02PM
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Chicago RV & Camping Show: Wednesday-Sunday, Stephens Convention Center, Rosemont; chicagorvshow.com.
Our World-Underwater: Friday-Sunday, Stephens Convention Center, Rosemont; ourworldunderwater.com.
Bedford Sales Open House: Friday-Sunday, Morris; bedford-sales.com.
Rockford Boat, Vacation and Fishing Show: Friday-Sunday, Indoor Sports Center; landroproductions.com.
Milwaukee Muskie Expo: Friday-Sunday, Wisconsin State Fair Park, West Allis, Wis.; muskieexpo.com.
The game birds of Illinois might catch a break before it is too late, especially if winter finally breaks.
‘‘There is no set formula to predict the effects of severe weather on them, but in many parts of the state we have had all the ingredients that can lead to losses,’’ emailed Stan McTaggart, the agriculture and grassland program manager for Illinois. ‘‘When you think about the effects of winter weather on most game birds, you hope that if there is deep snow, ice cover, high winds and/or prolonged spells of extremely cold temperatures, it doesn’t last very long or happen very often.
‘‘Some parts of Illinois were hit with these conditions several times this winter. In many areas, there were breaks between the severe-weather events where mild conditions helped melt snow and/or ice before the next round hit. Some areas seemed to get hit one right after another. We really won’t have a good feel for any impacts until we get back out this spring/summer for our annual surveys. I have personally been seeing birds near home (pheasant and quail) and talked to others who are still seeing most of the coveys they started the winters with.’’
Another good sign comes from the research being done by University of Illinois graduate students Eric Swenson (pheasants and hunters) and Tim Lyons (habitat and landscape) and others. I can’t wait to see the full results of their work, which includes a radio-telemetry study on pheasants at Sibley/Saybrook pheasant habitat areas and hunters with GPS (I know some who participated).
One tangential result of their studies is an immediate look at the impact of this winter. Swenson said they had five mortalities (out of 30-plus birds with transmitters). No deaths were related directly to the weather, but the predation by raptors (primarily) and coyotes might be related to birds ranging farther for food.
‘‘They are surviving this severe winter,’’ Swenson said. ‘‘We had a couple of recaptures that have lost body mass, which is not surprising, but they were alive.’’
McTaggart nailed the important point.
‘‘These types of winters are why we need more good habitat,’’ he emailed. ‘‘Birds in areas that have good winter cover (larger blocks of native warm-season grasses, shrub thickets and good mixture of native forbs) will fare much better than birds in marginal habitat. Birds in marginal cover are less able to escape these severe conditions and need to travel farther to find food or better cover.’’
Illinois might receive the OK for an additional 20 days of dove hunting, but some legal hoops, including final approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, remain. . . . Hunters who obtained an online hunter windshield card for DNR public hunting areas in Illinois must report their annual harvest online (even if the hunter didn’t hunt) by Saturday or two weeks after the season closes for those seasons ending after Feb. 1. . . . Squirrel season ends Saturday.
For the birds
One of my favorite winter breaks — the Great Backyard Bird Count — is Friday through Monday. The website has been upgraded (gbbc.birdcount.org), and apps have been added.
Equating this winter with death and spring training with life isn’t overthrowing the cutoff man.