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Fall flights of birds increasing with the season

October 16, 2010

Birds know the season of fall is here. It is time to make way for the advance of winter when food supplies become limited. For many species of birds, that means migrating toward more warm southern geographical areas. Red -tail hawks do go south but only as far as they need to. They are not long distance flyers like their cousins the Osprey that will go to Central America. The average departure date from Iowa for red-tails is Nov.16, give or take a few days. Just keep watching.

The color patterns of red-tails are quite varied. they can be very dark brown to almost white. On the great plains, a light colored race is known as the "Kirder's" with a pale whitish head and a washed-out pink color to the tail upper surface. Texas red-tails are darker above, do not tend to have the belly band. The all-dark race is called the "Harlan's." All mature red-tailed hawks have a rusty red top tail surface that show up well when the bird circles and sunlight reflects off the surface.


Article Photos

This red-tailed hawk, Buteo jamaicensis, obliged for a photo session earlier this week. The bird had sustained an injury to its right wing. The bird was turned into authorities. Red-tails are probably the most common hawk in North America. They like to soar high above open fields, turning slow circles on their broad rounded wings. Their vision is very acute and the movement of a vole, mouse, snake or other prey can easily be detected. After a slow controlled diving approach, the bird will extend its legs and open talons in preparation for the deed to be done. Needle sharp talon tips will capture the critter and insure a meal for the hawk. Researchers have examined the stomach contents and discovered mice as the predominant food in 131 of 173 cases.     

This next segment is weird. Maybe long ago in far off lands, someone with more time than common sense made a list or compiled a list of various names for flocks of birds. Some of these will be familiar, other just really different. Many are over 500 years old. Try these labels on for size: A bevy of quail, a building of rooks, a colony of penguins, a descent of woodpeckers, a dole of dove, a flight of swallows, a murder of crows, a nye of pheasants (if on the ground) but in the air they were called a bouquet, a peep of chickens, a sort of mallards, a trip of dotterel, wedge of swans, a cast of hawks, a company of parrots, a covey of partridges, an exaltation of larks, a kettle of hawks (if riding air thermals), an ostentation of peacocks, a parliament of owls, a pitying of doves, a siege of herons, a spring of teal, and unkindness of ravens, a wisp of snipe, a brood of hens, a charm of finches, a congregation of plovers, a deceit of lapwings, a fall of woodcocks, a host of sparrows, a murmuration of starlings, a muster of storks, a party of jays, a raft of ducks, a skein of geese (if in flight), a tidings of magpies and lastly, a watch of nightingales. If you know of other names, let me know. For example...what would you call a flock of seagulls trying to steal your picnic lunch at the beach? Be nice now.


This next segment is NOT weird, it is really cool. This event is happening tonight, Oct. 16. It is that time of year again for the annual fundraising banquet of the Marshall County chapter of PHEASANTS FOREVER. They meet at the Central Iowa Fairgrounds Activity Building. Doors open at 5 p.m., a catered meal will be served, and the usual auction items and door prize giveaways will be offered. You can get tickets at the door.

Pheasant Forever Inc. is a non-profit tax-exempt organization that was incorporated in Minnesota on August 5, 1982. PF is dedicated to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management polices and programs. Local chapter activities have involved assistance with hunter safety classes, sporting clays shoots, habitat developments of food plots, winter cover, or prairie grass establishments. In addition, PF assists with funding for central Iowa land acquisition projects by the DNR and/or County Conservation Boards.


Today is the opener of the early MUZZLELOADER DEER season in Iowa. The quota of 7,500 licenses for residents was filled long ago. Now these men and women will give it a go to see if they can bring home some venison for the freezer. If 2010 is similar to 2009, about 4,500 deer will be taken, a four percent increase over 2008.

"The intent of the DNR is to keep the early muzzleloader season license quota low to provide high quality hunting experiences for those hunters and to not harvest a large number of bucks before the breeding season" says Tom Litchfield, state deer biologist. "One of the reasons that Iowa is known for a high quality deer herd is that our regulations provide bucks some protection when they are more vulnerable."

The early muzzleloader deer seans begins today and runs through the 24th. Blaze orange vests, coats or coveralls are required when hunting with a firearm. The archery season for deer is also on-going so the opportunity for both types of hunters in the forests is high.

Deer must be reported using the harvest reporting system by midnight of the next day after a deer is recovered. Reporting the killing of a deer is an important part of the management program in Iowa, playing a vital role in manageing deer populations and future hunting opportunities. Reporting a killed deer is easy. Just call 1-800-771-4692 or use a home computer to fill in the easy to use questionnaire.

At this time, Iowa deer kills reported by youth and archers is in the range of 4,650 animals. This is a typical harvest trend line at this early stage with the bulk of deer hunting to take place during shotgun seasons one and two. By the time the 2009-10 seasons were over, the known minimum harvest was 136,504 animals. When corrected for a compliance rate of 84.5 percent, the actual total deer kill was about 161, 543. The goal of the DNR is to have a post season overall deer population of about 170,000.

Left unchecked, or unmanaged, deer have the potential to double in size in just three years. Hunting therefore is a vital and necessary management tool to keep deer numbers in check There will always be 'hot spots' or areas needing more hunting pressure. In Iowa, more and more counties are reaching management goals. It is a long range program and biological systems require time to work. Of course there will always be 'hotspots' where deer numbers stay high. Special management pressure can adapt to these situations on case-by-case situations.


This author supports the long term plan for natural resource funding, a ballot question this November on election day, which the people of Iowa can vote on. It is question number one on the reverse side of the ballot. Its actual title is Iowa's Water and Land Legacy Amendment. If approved, a Trust Fund for natural resources would be created, a method by which a dedicated and accountable system will be put into place to protect Iowa water quality, conservation of agricultural soils and improvements to Iowa natural areas including fish and wildlife habitat.

If the measure is passed, it will only have money applied to the Trust Fund if and when the legislature may increase the sales tax by one cent. That could take many years but at least the mechanism would be in place for long term dedicated and dependable financing. At that time, 3/8th of each penny would go to the Trust Fund. Just passing the amendment does not raise taxes. In order for this ballot question to be offered for a vote this November, each of the last two legislative sessions had to approve the proposal. They did so overwhelmingly with bipartisan support at a rate of over 90 percent.

Iowa has seen many changes in the last 150 years. Agriculture continues to see more than 5 tons of topsoil lost per acre per year with negative water quality issues. Waterfowlers are keenly aware of widespread wetland habitat losses with more than 90 percent of our state's marshes gone. Less than one-tenth of one percent of this state's tall-grass native prairie is left. Many of the shallow lakes and wetlands are degraded due to poor water quality and may host invasive species detrimental to native organisms of plant or animal.

There is no short-cut method to address these natural resource issues. Yes, it takes money. Just more money is not the key point either. There must be a reliable and stable amount to work with each year that is not subject to legislative string-pulling so that good long term plans for addressing doable, workable and common sense approaches to protect the legacy of Iowa's natural resources can work.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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