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River a magnet for migrating birds

May 11, 2013
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

CORMORANTS are not that common locally except when they migrate and have stopovers at local watering holes. Today's photo was one of several images captured recently. The birds were standing in long rows on old tree limbs protruding from the waters of the Iowa River. A bird standing with outstretched wings is very typical for this relative of the frigatebirds. This species does not have as much preen oil with which to dress and waterproof its feathers. Less oil means that drying the wing feathers is a must-do activity. The feathers do get water logged, however, when the bird pursues fishes. Underwater, this bird uses its wings and paddle feet to swiftly chase fish with good speed and agility.

Fish are what cormorants eat. Researchers have documented at least 250 various species of fishes taken as food. The technique to capture fish involves diving and chasing underwater with powerful propulsion from the feet. Wings aid in steering. A sharply hooked top bill aids in capture and holding of the fish. Once at the surface, a deft flip is used to bring the fish's head into the throat of a wide open mouth.

The summer range of the cormorant includes Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin plus South-central Canada. This bird is sometimes accused of eating too many fish that are valued by anglers. U. S. Fish and Wildlife studies of those accusations have found some validity to that claim. In some locales, nest destruction has been experimented with to reduce population growth. Shooting permits have also been issued on an as needed basis. Its conservation status is not in trouble. It is classified as least concern. Breeding in colonies, the birds have some unpleasant qualities including large accumulations of feces below the nests. This manure is also known to eventually kill the trees the birds nest in.

Article Photos

T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG
Double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) made a recent stopover on the Iowa River during their migration. Resting on log debris, the cormorants hold their wings out to dry in the sunlight. This bird, at a distance, is usually mistaken for some type of goose, or a loon. However, upon closer inspection with a binocular-aided view, reveals the bird to be the fish eater, the cormorant. Always found near water, this diver and underwater chaser of fish is in its element. In the background stands a great egret.

Cormorants are just one link in a long line of food chain elements. Where there is prey, in this case fish, there will be predators. Birds such as the cormorant are built to tackle the job of being a fish predator. They obviously get enough to eat, are successful at reproducing and make the annual migration each year to wintering grounds in Texas, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama.

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May is a huge peak time of the month for new birds arriving from southern winter habitats. At this scribe's home bird feeding station, I've tabbed the following: Harris's sparrow, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, chipping sparrow, white-breasted nuthatches and its cousin the red-breasted nuthatch, goldfinches, cowbird, oriole, rose-breasted grosbeak, wrens and hummingbirds, plus all the other common feathered critters common to this area. Sneaking in for a survey of new birds to eat was a sharp-shinned hawk. Keep looking as there will more be to come. Take time to pursue special habitats for specific birds. Grassland loving birds can be found at the Marietta Sand Prairie. Forests environments such as Timmons Grove, Grammer Grove or Arney Bend and the Iowa River Wildlife Area will be great places to survey for warblers, wild turkeys and wood ducks. Waterfowl can be found at wetland sites of Sand Lake, Green Castle or the state area Hendrickson Marsh.

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I came across a compilation pie chart the other day. It depicts an overview and general breakdown of the reasons for bird mortality. Pie charts, as you may know, cut the pieces into various sizes to show an area of interest. First, is the loss of habitat which takes one-third, 33.3 percent, followed closely at 31.7 percent by collisions with obstacles like buildings or flying into reflective scenes on big glass windows. Next on the list was domestic and feral cats. Yes, little kitty is not always that nice, especially for the wild ones making their living inside wildlife habitats. Cats take out another 16.7 percent of the pie chart. The rest of the pie pieces get smaller quickly....power lines 5.8 percent; vehicle collisions 2.0 percent, tall towers, 1.7 percent, lead ingestion, 0.7 percent; licensed hunting, 1.3 percent. That leaves 4.5 percent as other. Other factors are wind farms, oil spills, wastewater pits, urban light, disease, weather, starvation, natural predation and natural causes.

The source of this pie chart data is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wild Turkey Federation, American Bird Council, and Sibley Guides.

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"PHEASANTS FOREVER believes that there is room for conservation on every farm and ranch in the country" said Dave Nomsen, PF vice president of Governmental Affairs. "Just a look at recent history - from wet cycle to historic drought last year - showcases this need for conservation. Programs like CRP provide stability for producers on low yielding, tougher-to-farm acres, while simultaneously serving as America's top habitat tool for pheasants and quail." PF is now hosting informational meetings across the Midwest for landowners and agricultural producers in advance of the next USDA Farm Service Agency CRP sign up that runs from May 20 through June 14. At these meeting, PF biologists will work with landowners or operators to find long-term habitat solutions for those acres that lose money annually. Check with the local FSA office for the contact person and/or the closest meeting location.

Pheasants Forever is the largest, national nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation. PF has 135,000 members within its 730 chapters across the USA and Canada. Local chapters are totally free to determine how 100 percent of locally raised conservation funds are spent. This is truly a grassroots structure.

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On the theme of what works and at what cost, consider this: In Solon, Ohio, the city is plagued with too many deer within its urban borders. The Ohio Division of Wildlife recommends the use of a tried and true method at virtually no cost to the city. That solution is used in multiple urban centers in many states to allow certified bowhunters to take out doe deer. Solon officials think otherwise. In 2012, they employed a sharpshooter service. That private service company removed 200 deer in 2012 at a total cost of, get this, of $132,719. That equals $663.59 per deer! All of this cost was borne by that city's tax payers. Bowhunters are willing to assist in doe deer reduction by purchasing special licenses themselves. The venison is processed for local food banks and food kitchens. I just thought you'd want to know that common sense can work if allowed to.

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More people in the USA support HUNTING right now than at any time since 1995. A new survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation shows 79 percent of Americans approve of hunting. The national survey was just completed during February 2013 using random digit dialing and supplemental cellular telephone sampling. This was the fifth in a series of similar surveys to determine trends in public approval. The trend data shows approval ratings of 73 percent in 1995, 75 in 2003, 78 in 2006, 74 in 2012 and 79 in 2013. This is a fairly stable trend line. Nationally, 13.7 million people, ages 16 or older, went hunting. The strongest correlation for approval of hunting is knowing a hunter. Hunters can and must continue to project the positive role they play in funding and on-the-ground management cooperation with private conservation organizations and state DNR agencies.

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"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today to make a new ending." Maria Robinson, American writer.

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Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with 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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