Centennial of Bird Treaty begins in 2016

The MIGRATORY BIRD TREATY will be recognized beginning in 2016 for the work accomplished a century ago. This was an agreement initially signed by the United States and Britain (acting on behalf of Canada) on Aug. 16, 1916. It set the guidelines in place for protecting and managing migratory game and non-game birds whose flight paths cross international borders every Spring and every Fall. It was a case or citizen science in action, although it was not called that 100 years ago. But its effect was the same. Concerned citizens, hunters and non hunters alike, politicians and fledgling conservation organizations championed the treaty. It was a method by which science could begin to influence how and when ducks and geese could be taken legally without endangering the breeding population.

The treaty closed indiscriminate hunting of any and all migratory species. Prior to this time, there was a thriving market for feathers, the more colorful the better, for decorations used on women’s hats. Songbirds were especially vulnerable to hat maker production. The treaty also worked to retain natural habitats up and down flyway corridors across America.

In one fell swoop, the Migratory Bird Treaty made it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell birds listed within the details of the legislation. And there was no discrimination between living birds or dead birds. And protection was also afforded to nests, eggs, all body parts and feathers. There are more than 800 species on the list today.

Exceptions for hunting waterfowl were recognized right out of the chute. Many foresighted people understood that a time and place for seasonal harvest could be accomplished for ducks and geese. A hunting season framework was devised that all states and provinces had to adhere to. Market hunting was banned. Individuals could take waterfowl under specific conditions and time frames, specific hunting seasons that set for each region or state, and additionally regulated as to quantities of species that could be harvested. This approach led to the come back of many species including Canada geese, Wood Ducks and Trumpeter Swans.

Birds of prey were now protected. Up to that time, indiscriminate takings were common. People were beginning to understand the interconnected relationships of all predators and all prey animals. A lot had to be learned as the next century continued to slip into our history books. Science helped solve lots of problems, answer questions, and provide a method to address management strategies. The treaty allowed for and encouraged, should I say demanded, the making of regulations for consistent management across the borders of nations. n addition, special habitats along flyways led to the establishment of wildlife refuges in every country.

The Treaty got additional co-signers when Mexico partnered with the United States in 1936. Japan added their support in 1972. The Soviet Union (now Russia) came on board in 1976. Each of these nations and their conservation minded leaders understood how habitats for all game and non-game birds depended upon wild natural environments from wintering grounds to summer breeding territories. These border crossing birds were and remain ambassadors for our nation’s cooperation.

The Treaty also had flexibility built in so that problem situations could be addressed. Certain crop depredation cases can obtain permits to take or deal with damages beyond what the framers of the Treaty could have envisioned. One modern day safety concern involves scaring or other removal of birds from places like the green grasses around large airports. We all know that things like Canada geese and airliners do not mix well. Cormorant control in some fisheries settings is also allowed on case-by-case basis.

The next 100 years will undoubtedly see minor adaptive methodologies put in place within the existing framework of the migratory bird treaty. As conservationists celebrate the first 100 years, ongoing work to protect wildlife habitats around the world, in our state, and in our backyards will also be ongoing. Now all birds of a feather have value way more important than mere decoration on a hat. You can support these efforts by the purchase of a federal migratory bird stamp available at U.S. post offices. And each state has a migratory bird stamp or fee associated with waterfowl management programs. Money from these stamp sales helps game and non-game alike.

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DUCKS UNLIMITED members are very familiar with migratory bird stamps. They need them to legally conduct fall hunts for ducks and geese. However every DU member will tell you that wetlands hold a lot more wildlife than just the bigger birds they may choose to hunt. Herons, eagles, rails, red-winged blackbirds, egrets, sandhill cranes, marsh wrens and many more owe their lives to wetland and upland grassland conservation. You can help support this effort on Saturday, March 19 by attending the local DU banquet. Call Rich Naughton at 641-328-0124 for ticket purchases.

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DEER will soon be casting off their antlers. This is an entirely natural event whereby specialized cells called osteoclasts become activated. The point of action for these cells is the pedicel or base of the antler. The roughness or bumpiness of the cast antler is due to the action of these cells. In effect the true bone that grew out of the skull plate of a buck’s head become weaker by osteoclasts. One day an antler can be firmly attached, the next day it has weakened enough to fall off. Almost immediately a layer of skin starts to grow over the pedicel from the outer edges. Within one week or two, the pedicel is healed over and waiting for the start of new antler growth. Lengthening days mean more sunlight and internal changes to the chemistry of the deer’s brain and hormone production consistent with Spring.

Most male whitetail deer will drop their antlers this month and into March. A few have already done so, and a few will retain antlers into late March or even early April. But note that I said the majority of bucks will loose there headgear between now and the end of March. In general, bucks with large antlers retain them longer than bucks with small antlers. Researchers have noted that a strong relationship exists between dominance status and the order in which bucks cast off their bony appendages. Subordinate bucks cast antlers before dominant animals. Age of the bucks does not appear to be a factor.

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DEER hunters during the 2015-16 season took 105,399 animals of which 48,249 were female deer, 46,889 were bucks, 9,721 were button bucks and statewide there were 540 bucks that had lost, cast off, or shed their antlers prior to the hunter taking the animal. Ten counties were responsible for taking 26 percent of the statewide total. They are primarily counties along the Mississippi River with a few scattered in southern or central Iowa. The lowest ten counties in terms of deer harvest took only 1.67 percent of the state total. Those counties as you might expect are in northwest and north central parts of the state where habitat is lacking. Clayton County had the highest deer kill numbers with 4,382. The lowest count came from Calhoun County with 109.

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“Today’s mighty oak tree is just yesterday’s nut that held it ground.”

– Author unknown

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.