Today’s Menu is Chicken

prairie chicken-1

One thing about having to put up with living in the eye of the polar vortex, there’s time to think. It’s too cold to do much else. Hunkering down, I wondered how many of the few ruffed grouse that were around the house earlier in the winter were still alive. The lynx might have gotten a couple. Maybe once it warms, we’ll see if any birds start showing up to bud in the grove of white birch our house sits in. But first, it has to warm up. It has to.

At least ruffed grouse, as a species, are doing well. Not everywhere on their range, of course, but they remain common to abundant over vast stretches of the boreal forest. In some places, especially to the south where hardwoods dominate, they seem somewhat in trouble. If you’ve read, or get a chance to, ‘Redruff, the Story of the Don Valley Partridge’, by Ernest Thompson Seton, outlines some of the problems this grouse faces. I like Seton, as his narratives can be interpreted on a number of levels, and the classic story of Redruff, the ruffed grouse, does a particularly good job of illustrating how humans can, and do, simply overrun and irrevocably change things.

But there’s still lots of ruffed grouse and ruffed grouse habitat in Canada. Enough to allow for generous, regulated harvests. That’s great, as ruffed grouse is of one of, if not the best tasting upland game bird, anywhere. The flesh is light in colour, very delicate and in many households, like ours, they’re esteemed.

There are a number of other species of grouse in Canada, and some aren’t doing near as well as the ruffed grouse. Sage grouse have recently been provided with an emergency order by the federal government, which is intended to keep the birds from disappearing here and hopefully help restore their numbers, at least to some degree.

The order says, among other things, the following:

“The intent of an Emergency Order is to impose obligatory restrictions designed to protect the Sage-Grouse and its habitat on provincial and federal crown lands in Alberta and Saskatchewan with no restrictions on activities on private land, nor on grazing on provincial or federal crown lands. Our goal is to achieve the best protection for the Sage-Grouse while minimizing impacts on landowners and agricultural producers.”

We’ll have to wait and see how well that works out. There’s not a lot of sage grouse left – only somewhere between 100 and 200. And we all know governments have decidedly mixed track records when it comes to wildlife restoration projects.

The outlook is even worse for the greater prairie chicken. Although there were estimated to be a million of them in Canada in the early 1900’s, none have been seen since the late 1980’s. In 2009, they were declared to be extirpated from Canada. They still survive in the USA, including Minnesota and North Dakota, states which are immediately adjacent to southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where the best prairie chicken habitat in Canada once existed.

What went wrong? I think it can be summed up by simply stating the long grass prairie ecosystem, where prairie chickens thrived, was transformed, especially in Canada, into an agricultural sea. The habitat they needed, was no longer there. All gone.

Enough is known, I think, to restore prairie chickens to the Canadian landscape (prairie chickens and farming can and do co-exist), but society isn’t willing to make the effort nor pay the cost to see that happen.

There are many other, more burning issues, on the environmental plate. That means taking on giant agriculture because of the plight of the prairie chicken, isn’t on the main menu.

Too bad. I like chicken.

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4 comments
  1. randy mccune said:

    The cycle theory of ruffed grouse has been dumped on us by the DNR for the 50 years that I’ve had an interest in the welfare of this beautiful upland game bird. The bottom of the cycle has been with us for the 50 years. Looking with ernest to the upswing. In the 70’s most of the grouse management was based on the research of Gordon Gillion and I believe it is practiced to this day. I think what was never factored into the formula was the intense road building into our forested lands to haul out timber, but also a convenient way to access grouse habitat and gun from the truck. Coons, possums, fox and coyote predation on eggs and newborn chicks are another factor not accounted for in the grouse survival puzzle. I look with envoy on the reports I hear from moose hunters and fishermen coming back from Northern Ontario, near Wawa of the plentiful grouse populations. Might have to make the trip.

  2. I agree that the thinking ‘hunting has no impact on ruffed grouse populations’ is a decades old line of thought and where roads and predators abound, it makes no sense at all. My friends in southern Ontario think one of the biggest problems they have are pussycats. Everybody in the country has a cat – or several of them – and they all are ‘free’. Their observations are similar to yours – they haven’t seen a good population of grouse in the last 30 years. But the season is still 3 months long, and the daily bag is 5, possession limit 15. I don’t know anyone down there who has shot a limit of grouse – ever.

  3. My house sits in 140 acres of woods surrounded by farm fields. Ruff Grouse have survived in my woods for the forty years I have lived here and my experiences with them have been continuous. I never hunt them nor do I allow hunting on my personal acres. There have been times when I have felt that they no longer resided in my woods but I soon learned that a winter survey was the best way to check their numbers. At various times in the winter they will feed together and rarely have I been unable to locate at least three. Three birds in the winter translates into an ongoing population.
    Some years as many as three to five will visit my feeders or flowering crabapple trees to feed on buds. In a recent spring I heard drumming from five different directions at the same time. My woods would be a sad place without Ruff Grouse.

    • Ruffed grouse are by far my favourite bird.

      On Mon, Jan 11, 2016 at 4:22 PM, wildlifeperspectives wrote:

      >

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