Ohio's Upland Bird Populations On Decline


"The Ohio Division of Wildlife (DOW) held its first Upland Game Bird Summit on Feb.9 at the District 1 office in Columbus.
Its biologists reported on the status of the state’s population of woodcock, ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasant and northern bobwhite quail to some 60 invited audience members who had completed surveys expressing interest in the conservation of these species.
We heard that each of these species’ populations have declined to historic lows, blamed primarily on declining or unsatisfactory habitat conditions and/or acreage.
Since the woodcock is a migratory bird species, its management is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They have a framework that uses population levels to add or subtract 15-day hunting season increments.

The former 60-day season was reduced to the current 45-day season, but further declines may require another bump down to a 30-day season.
The DOW has been collecting hunter diaries to determine which 30-day period should be targeted to match the timing of recent migration of woodcock into the state.
Habitat work is being conducted on some state wildlife areas by creating clear cuts to encourage old field to mid-stage successional vegetation near lakes and rivers.

Ruffed grouse
Ruffed grouse is the upland game bird species that is most under duress. When trying to determine the cause of the drastic decline, over-mature forest habitat is considered the leading culprit, but the West Nile Virus has been shown to be contributing to additive mortality to the species.
Ruffed grouse prefer forests of mixed ages, including trees from pole timber diameter down to young saplings for their needs during various seasons. Ohio’s large blocks of mostly mature timber found in most of the public forests is of limited value to this species.
One of the game management options would be to make clear cuts within the mature forests and shorten the season on grouse, to protect potential breeding birds that have survived into the winter and often have antibodies to West Nile Virus, giving them immunity from future infections.

Ring-necked pheasant
Although Ohio’s wild pheasant population is the greatest of the four upland bird species discussed at the summit, the statewide population that peaked in the 1940s and 50s at around 4 million is estimated to be down to only 35,000 based largely on the latest Breeding Bird Surveys.
The best populations remain in several counties within the Scioto Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) area, the northwest corner of the state and near large pheasant hunting preserves.
Unfortunately, up to 41 percent of the Conservation Reserve Program grassland habitat acres could be returned to crop production as contracts expire in the next two years. The newly approved Farm Bill allows for new enrollment contracts, but at reduced rental rates, so farmer participation levels remain to be seen.

Northern bobwhite quail
The bobwhite quail range was dramatically reduced and never recovered after the “Blizzard of 1978.” Quail normally have a high reproductive capacity when habitat and weather conditions are favorable

To help with quail re-establishment, birds were raised for release at the Urbana game farm, imported from Kansas and trapped and transferred within Ohio. But each of the liberated populations withered away within 10 years.
Once again, habitat is no longer ideal in most of Ohio to support quail with large blocks of monoculture grain fields replacing quail-friendly mosaics of mixed crops and pastures connected by fence rows that supply overhead cover from hawks.
The former distribution of quail in a wide band across southern Ohio has contracted into isolated populations in about a dozen counties, separated by Interstate 75 in southwest Ohio.
There are a few populations that are being intensely managed to try to prevent their loss, especially in the approximately 10,000-acre Fallsville Quail Heritage Area in Highland County.

Pheasants Forever fundraiser
The 28th annual fundraiser banquet of the Erie-Ottawa-Sandusky County Pheasants Forever Chapter will be held March 9 at the Camp Perry clubhouse banquet facility.
Ohio has more than 29 chapters with more than 5,200 members, with a national membership in excess of 149,000.
The Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever conservation model uses locally raised funds for local projects, minus the membership fee that goes to support the home office in St. Paul, Minn.
After more than 25 years of trying, the outlook for re-establishing pheasants in large numbers locally looks unlikely, but the upland habitat being created by the group still benefits valuable pollinators, rare grassland songbirds, waterfowl nesting, deer and numerous other wildlife species as consolation prizes.
Seating is limited to 350 people, with admission only for those with pre-sale tickets. Go to pheasantsforeverevents.org or call Carol Benner at (419) 707-0464."

This is not new news. At least they are reporting more honest numbers now. It wasn't that long ago that Ohio DOW was reporting 200,000 wild pheasants in Ohio which was total bull.

For more than 30 years Ohio's political influence upon ODNR / DOW has been too heavily influenced by industrial agriculture, real estate development and extractive industries to establish truly effective wildlife conservation practices. Farming practices up until the late 70's / early 80's for the most part were more friendly to most upland wildlife species in Ohio. The introduction of more intense pesticide use decimated a wide variety of plants and insects that upland wildlife populations require. Most of the already meager amounts of CRP conservation acres in Ohio that might assist pheasant and quail numbers are established along waterways that are subject to flooding which diminishes nesting success and drives birds out of those associated protections of CRP escape cover. Couple that along with the way that many farms today also cut, drain and remove almost all remaining trace of crop residue and native vegetation from agricultural fields in the fall and you have most of the answer for the major declines in upland wildlife populations in Ohio. Concerned Ohioans would do well to take a look at Iowa and Minnesota natural resources conservation and wildlife management practices. Pennsylvania's Game Commission's efforts to provide upland hunting opportunities with quality raised stocked pheasants are another good model to pay attention to. The decline of upland wildlife populations include more than just these game birds as songbirds, pollinating insects and other plant and animal species are also largely affected. Considering Ohio's last 30 years of industrial land use practices with declining attention to wildlife and ecosystem conservation it should come as no surprise that the number of sport hunters is also in decline. I'd be really even more depressed about if I didn't have easy access to hunting in PA.