I think it's about time for another column devoted to predators and the damage they are doing to desirable wildlife and our diminishing number of much-loved song birds. I know some of you are not fully convinced there's a problem, but I assure you there is.
I am beginning to find well-thought-out articles in most of the national magazines like Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, and Fur, Fish, Game. Some newspaper stories are describing the damage the overpopulation of predators is doing.
Several nesting duck projects have been conducted in the continental United States. One documented that duck (mallard) reproduction was almost nil on a test area where there was no predator control. On the same type adjacent property with vigorous predator control, as high as 80 percent of the nests hatched and the young survived.
The projects focused on grey foxes, coyotes, and raccoons, recognized as the number one problem. A mature raccoon not only will rob a nest of all its eggs, but in some cases will kill a nesting hen.
It was noted also that in the projects, red-tailed hawks caused some losses of ducklings. It is not at all unusual in the Delta during the winter to count several hawks per mile on well-traveled county roads. Rabbit hunters who hunt drainage ditches and little patches of wood find their efforts rather futile as early as November. By mid-January and February it is no longer worthwhile to hunt unless you are out just for the exercise.
I made a pretty careful study of one set of county roads, watching all winter. I noted that the hawks were very plentiful until about late January or early February. They then thinned out a great deal, no doubt having moved on to some other area that might still have a few rabbits or other small animals.
I received a most interesting letter from John T. Dillard of Leland, Miss., the very heart of the Delta. I quote from the letter: “We now have many more predators in the Delta than we do quail and rabbits. People with good motives but with very little knowledge have seen that predators are protected without any understanding of the outcome. On much of the Delta, the habitat is better for game than it has been in years. We have large acreage in grain and lots of idle land that is excellent cover. The chemicals that farmers are using are much safer than in years past. In fully protecting red-tailed hawks and other predators, our population of quail is at the point of extermination. People who are hired to protect the wildlife are aware of this desperate situation. Wildlife officers and officials need to step forward and help get this miserable situation changed.”
One of the saddest and most ridiculous examples of the damage being done by federally protecting these raptors is what has occurred at the world famous Ames Plantation near Grand Junction, Tenn., where the bird dog world championship has been run for more than 100 years. I have been informed by management up there, including the general manager, that they know that raptors, especially hawks and big owls, are the most serious threat to the quail population.
And yet, believe it or not, they are not permitted to use lethal methods to reduce the number of predators and are faced with ever-worsening shortages of quail (and rabbits). Even more unbelievable is that they are told to clear-cut some of their wonderful woodland to reduce the habitat for the hawks and owls.
A final word to non-hunting birdwatchers. I have been out in wooded habitat a very great deal. I now find numerous piles of feathers from blue jays, cardinals, thrush, woodpeckers and small birds like sparrows and wrens. You can be sure they provided a meal for a predator and we have one less delightful bird to listen to and watch.
We should demand that controls be put on these over-abundant characters that are destroying much of our wonderful wildlife.