The Sportsman’s World: Good Year for Ground Nesters

By Leon Archer

If what I’ve been seeing is any indication, turkeys and grouse did well at bringing off a good hatch this spring. 

Most years I will see an occasional hen turkey with her brood out near the road, but I am seeing more than usual. 

Just last Tuesday I drove to Redfield and between Williamstown and north Redfield I saw nine hen turkeys. Four of them were each accompanied by broods, and one of those hens had 12 poults that looked like they were about two weeks old. 

I did see one group of five hens without a single little turkey run across the road ahead of my car. Perhaps the hens were out feeding together but had nests with still-to-hatch eggs waiting for them to return; obviously it is impossible to know why they seemed to be barren.

The really interesting thing to me was that I saw seven grouse on the same morning. I hardly ever see grouse out on the edge of the road this time of year, so I was very impressed. 

The first one I saw had eight little chicks cheerfully running around her. I slowed my truck down to a crawl as I neared them. The hen, cautiously watching my vehicle edged very slowly towards the woods at my approach, but the chicks headed for cover much faster. 

Two of the little buggers showed off their new flying skills while the rest hopped and ran for the tall grass and bushes. Three more of the hens I saw that morning had broods of various sized chicks, but I could not get a good count of the numbers of young. The other three grouse might have been cock birds, but in any case, there were no little ones with them.

I found it very encouraging to see so many young birds with their mothers. If I saw so many, my guess would be that other areas have probably had a good breeding season as well. 

Sure, not all of those little balls of fluff and feathers will reach adulthood. There are many predators that will gobble them up if they get the chance, and some of them happen to be hawks that are especially good at catching small birds no matter whether they are out in the open or semi-protected by trees and brush.

From the air, Cooper’s Hawks, and their slightly smaller lookalike Sharp Shinned Hawks, depend for much of their livelihood on small birds, whether it’s a robin, chickadee, immature grouse, mourning dove or small turkey. 

They capture and eat all of them and many other species as well. Bird lovers who put out birdfeeders need to be aware of these hawks, because birdfeeders are nothing more than a convenient cafeteria for them.

Once one or the other of these two hawks finds a birdfeeder, they will return again and again to snatch an unsuspecting songbird. They may patrol one or more bird feeders on a regular basis. 

About all one can do to prevent them from dining on the birds at the feeder is to remove the feeder for a few days. When the food is gone, the little birds go elsewhere and the hawks will do likewise. After a week or two, it is usually safe to put the feeder out once more, but one must continue to be vigilant.

It is easy to think of those hawks as villains, but they are only doing what God created them to do, and they do it extremely well. I am hoping that none of the little birds I saw last Tuesday fall victim to those raptors, but if some do, I will not think evil of the hawks. 

They are raising families of their own, and those chicks eat meat, just like their parents. That is the reality of what is called the food chain. 

After all, dying from their attack is no different to the turkeys and grouse than dying from a load of birdshot. Only the predator has changed. 

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