Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wet Spring Could Hamper Fall Game Bird Hunting

Sunday, May 29, 2011
By Scott Shalaway

The end of summer seems a long way off, but the rain we've received over the last six weeks will affect the success of ground-nesting game birds. This includes ducks, geese, ruffed grouse, turkeys and, to a limited degree because there are so few, bobwhite and ring-necked pheasants.

These birds are particularly susceptible to wet springs because when the ground is saturated, it is difficult to keep eggs dry and warm. When rainfall is normal, hens use their bodies to shield the clutch from rainfall. But when it rains almost every day, chilling moisture seeps into the nest from the ground.

The nesting period for these game birds is fairly lengthy. Hens lay one egg per day and clutch size varies from four or five eggs for geese to 10 or more for bobwhite, grouse, turkeys, ducks and pheasants. Then add an incubation period that ranges from 23 days for bobwhite and grouse to 31 days for turkeys.

Unfortunately, the last month has been very wet. It has certainly been an unusual year and could result in very few successful nests. Game bird numbers could be down this fall.

Fortunately, most ground nesting birds renest if they lose their first attempt. They can recover, but late nests are more vulnerable to predators such as foxes and raccoons that have lots of babies to feed. And second clutches are often smaller than the first clutch.

Game birds have long incubation periods because their young are precocial. When these chicks hatch, they can leave the nest in a matter of hours. Precocial chicks stay with one or both parents for several weeks after hatching, but feed independently within a matter of days. During wet springs, however, even insect populations suffer and young precocial birds may have a hard time finding high protein food.

Watch for broods of game birds this spring and into the summer. Your observations will be best guide to predicting the status of fall populations.

Scott Shalaway is a biologist and author. His other weekly Post-Gazette column, "GETintoNATURE," is published in the GETout section. Shalaway can be reached at and RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033.

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