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Worrying about wildlife

I know I worry more than I should. I concern myself about things I have no power to change, but I worry about them anyway. When the snow becomes crusted and the temperatures are brutally cold, I worry about survival of the wildlife I so enjoy.

There has been a covey of quail living near the south gate to the farm for several years. In the last couple of years, their numbers seem to be slowly increasing. Years ago, we would hunt quail in that area, getting our limit of eight birds in a morning. For the past 10 or 15 years the population has decreased to the point we do not hunt them at all.

We are only hoping for their survival. Several winters with ice storms had almost wiped out the entire population. The birds could not get through the thick layer of ice to feed on weed seeds or scratch down to the grass.

I noticed a group of turkeys scratching in the timber, looking for hickory nuts and acorns. A heavy snow followed by a warm day with a cold night made a barrier hard to penetrate by the turkeys. The crust on several inches of snow is thick enough to support a person's weight. I know it has to be difficult for a turkey to break the crust, dig through the snow, and find some food. The energy expended has to be close to or greater than the calories gained from the nuts.

We have seen large numbers of deer, bunching up in corn fields, looking for spilled grain or dropped ears of corn. Ten or twenty deer in an area does not seem too unusual, but when we see 150 or 200 deer in one field, I become concerned. They are obviously hungry and it is not healthy for large numbers of deer to congregate in a small area. If one has a disease, an epidemic of that disease can wipe out most of the population.

Nature has a way of taking care of itself. If left alone, some animals will live and some will die. This is the logical way of looking at things. There may be tremendous winter kill that may take years from which to recover. I am not willing to accept this as inevitable. When I can do something about changing the way of nature, I am not logical.

Feeding wildlife is not without its risks. If a person feeds regularly in the same place, animals will concentrate in that area, increasing the likelihood of spreading disease throughout all the animals. This will result in more damage than help.

When I see our wildlife being severely stressed, I will feed on a very limited basis. Fifty pounds of cracked corn spread along the south fence will feed the quail until the next thaw. Rabbits, songbirds, and assorted other wildlife will also help themselves. Two or three bags of shelled corn spread near the timber and along the trails and near the open water will provide a quick energy boost for the deer and turkey at a much needed time. It will not be enough to draw unhealthy numbers to the area, but will ensure the survival of the animals in the area.

It costs very little money and takes only the time required to enjoy a ride in the outdoors to make life a whole lot easier for the animals we enjoy so much. It is not wise or prudent to feed wildlife on a regular basis to the point they become dependent, but everything needs a quick break from the hardships of winter.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.