Print

Print


The question of predation is a tricky one.  Historical studies offer a 
partial answer to the question, but contemporary experience leads me to 
think predators may be a problem that need addressing in a different 
way.

Charles Schwartz, in his 1940's work on the prairie chicken, ultimately 
ascertained that no form of predator control was necessary, and said 
that it should not be emphasized.  In the 1980's, Donald Christisen of 
the MDC also did a detailed study on the status of the prairie chicken 
in the state, and I don't believe he recommended predator control 
either.  His big emphasis, as was Schwartz's, was improving quality of 
habitat.  They also wrote at times when Missouri had thousands of 
chickens.  Different ball game now.

One little-known study holds the most satisfactory answer to the 
question I have found.  It is a master's dissertation from the 
University of Missouri published in 1988, that focused on prairies 
around Taberville.  The study examined whether or not there was a 
difference in mortality rates between hens who chose to nest on small 
or large sections of prairie.  The study found that nesting hens in 
areas of small fragments of habitat, even if the given amount of 
grassland acreage in the whole area was equal to a large prairie, were 
much more susceptible to predation than hens nesting in larger 
prairies.  The relationship was significant enough to be the difference 
between a self-sustaining population and a doomed one. Here's a 
citation if interested: Loren Burger, “Movements, Home Range, and 
Survival of Female Greater Prairie-Chickens in Relation to Habitat 
Pattern” (M.S. diss., University of Missouri-Columbia, 1988), 90-91.

In a fragmented landscape, nests tend to be more concentrated, making 
them easier to find for predators.  Predators have more avenues through 
which to travel and perches to hunt from, as noted by prior posters.

It's certain that the removal of apex predators and the resulting 
explosion of coyotes, foxes, skunks, feral cats, etc. has had a 
negative impact on chickens, but in a healthy prairie landscape, 
predation shouldn't be a problem.  In theory... but...

... I talked to a very knowledgeable source from Kansas last year, and 
they told me that even on the 9,000 (!) acre Konza Prairie in Kansas, 
they are having some trouble keeping numbers up because of increased 
predation.  There goes my theory that better habitat should be enough.  
Even if this evidence is anecdotal, there are a boatload of other 
anecdotes.  There are probably studies too, if not from the Midwest on 
prairie chickens, then elsewhere on other gallinaceous birds.

Certainly better habitat will help, but it's probably an inescapable 
conclusion that predators are a problem.  The best way to deal with it 
is probably habitat restoration, but as for whether that is enough on 
it's own, I've got some doubts.

This is why I don't envy people working in grassland restoration.  
There are lots of wagons with loose wheels, and not enough time, 
supplies, or wheelwrights.

Phil Wire
Kirksville, Adair Co.
[log in to unmask]



-----------------------
Phil Wire
Truman State University

------------------------------------------------------------
The Audubon Society of Missouri's Wild Bird Discussion Forum
ASM Fall Meeting: Sept. 26-28, 2008 at Osage Beach, MO
More information: http://www.mobirds.org