I just finished reading the article entitled "Utility Birds" in the September issue of the Missouri Conservationist, and I would like to express concern over Missouri bird hunting seasons. In the aforementioned article, Jim Low of the Missouri Department of Conservation encourages hunters to get out there and "tune up for the fall hunting season" by killing Wilson's Snipe, American Woodcock, Sora, and Virginia Rails.
Although the term "utility birds" used to describe these unique species concerns me, it does not concern me nearly as much as the fact that these species occupy the same habitat as threatened and endangered species that can easily be mistaken by hunters for legal targets. To an average hunter, a snipe might look like any other shorebird, including many protected species.
The same scenario holds true for rails. The article even warns that King Rails are present in Virginia Rail habitat. In light of this disclosure, failure to offer Missouri Conservationist readers/hunters the keys to differentiating between the species is simply irresponsible. The Missouri Department of Conservation must pay closer attention to its vital mission to educate the public and, more importantly, to responsibly manage and sustain our precious wildlife resources.
I know firsthand that mistaken targets account for a certain percentage of hunter kills. During opening weekend of dove season this year on the Aldrich arm of Stockton Reservoir, I watched as an MDC agent picked up a dying Killdeer that had been shot by a dove hunter. We all know that hunters do make mistakes, and we know all too well the stories surrounding past hunting mistakes leading to the death of Whooping Cranes and other endangered species. How many King Rails can we sacrifice and still justify this "utility bird" hunting season?
If hunters need to "tune up for the fall hunting season", I suggest they sharpen their skills on clay pigeons and leave our uncommon, easily misidentified native species alone.
photo credit to Keith Button