By Larry Dablemont
I put my pellet rifle out on the back porch last week, so I could kill two or three birds coming to the back yard bird feeders. Bet that causes some eyebrows to rise!
The birds I shoot are brown-headed cowbirds. The reason I want these birds gone is because the hen of the species will go to open bird’s nests like those of cardinals, robins and doves and many others, kick out the eggs that are there and lay her own eggs. Then whatever birds have made that nest will incubate and feed the cowbird fledglings. So I eradicate all of the cowbirds that I can and I suggest you do the same.
Migrating wild birds are here at Lightnin’ Ridge now; orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, blue grosbeaks and others. All will nest here, including the yellow-billed cuckoo (rain-crow) which is still two or three weeks from arriving. The only other thing I shoot at my place is black snakes, which climb trees, and invade bird houses and hollow trees to eat bird eggs or young birds. Sure, if you have a barn or shed with mice, black snakes will help eradicate them. But they will eat more baby birds and rabbits than mice, and they never pass up a turkey nest either. They are overpopulated almost everywhere unless they are controlled. And that is the secret to “managing” any kind of situation. Each person in charge of acreage in the country has to decide what they want. If you want rabbits, quail, ground-nesting birds like meadowlarks, whippoorwills, killdeer, etc. you can’t have high populations of skunks and possums, black snakes, armadillos and raccoons. Armadillos, not native to the Ozarks, should be eradicated any way possible. But I can hear the suburban “master naturalists” protesting. No, controlling those species I just mentioned does not mean eliminating them. There will always be some of them, just not overpopulations.
What a mess we have now with raccoons. They get diseases like distemper, which kills them slowly, and they still are very overpopulated all throughout the Midwest. No coon hunters any more, and few trappers. I am sure that if you are talking about ‘wildlife management’ you are not in agreement with the furbearer situation. Good grief, coyotes are at all time highs and so are bobcats.
I got a Bachlelor of Science degree from the University of Missouri’s School of Agriculture in ‘Wildlife Management’. I remember a time when management of wildlife actually was practiced, and a goal of wildlife departments. Today that term is meaningless. Young biologists do not come from rural settings today. Many never hunted in their youths, have only the knowledge gained in classrooms. And they are taught by instructors who do not have a country background either. My degree and the books were a small percentage of what I learned about the outdoors. I grew up in the outdoors.
Endangered species is becoming a silly term. Do you think Eagles are endangered today?!! Cottontail rabbits are more endangered than eagles! Whipporwills are more endangered than ospreys. But who knows that in our state conservation agencies. What I have said about blacksnakes and cowbirds will cause some of the experts who live in the cities and talk conservation in city offices, will wince at what I say.
Here in the woods where I live, I heard a whippoorwill for the first time in ten years this week. Whippoorwills and cottontails and quail are all at precarious populations, each perhaps ten percent of the number I saw in the 70’s. ‘Wildlife Management’ nowadays amounts to figuring out where the money is, and for Game and Fish Departments and Conservation Departments, you can’t make money out of quail, rabbits or whippoorwills, so the attitude is…we can’t help them… and don’t you dare shoot a hawk or raccoon!
If I get caught shooting a brown-headed cowbird or a blacksnake, by some conservation agent who doesn’t know the difference between a turkey egg and a goose egg, I would have to pay a fine. But come up on my wooded ridgetop and see all the birds I have here, including quail!
And there are skunks and weasels and black snakes too. It’s just that here, my degree in wildlife ‘management’ has caused me to ‘manage’ them. I may do some more managing today if those cowbirds show up beneath the feeder.
You can see Lightnin’ Ridge for yourself on Saturday, June 5 when we have a huge (they always call yard sales ‘huge’) sale here and a noon-time fish-fry and dinner to go with it. You can hike the trails with me at 11:00 or on your own anytime you want. This place will show you what the Ozarks looked like years ago. There are some 300 year-old trees here and lots of wild creatures I ‘manage’. If you come, the dinner is five dollars per person.