I officially edited and sent a Letter to the Editor of the Missouri Conservationist magazine regarding their article on utility birds. I post it here, as I'm not very confident that a letter critical of the MDC will ever reach the pages of the Conservationist.
I just finished reading the article entitled "Utility Birds"
Although the term "utility birds" used to describe these unique species clearly devalues them, it does not concern me nearly as much as the fact that the two rail species occupy the same habitat as an endangered species that can be mistaken by hunters for a legal target. As a birder, I know that size itself can be deceiving as a tool for identification. With this in mind, it is possible that a King Rail might easily be mistaken for a Virginia Rail, as both have similar field marks.
Low's article even warns that King Rails are present in rail habitat during the hunting season. In light of this disclosure, failure to offer Missouri Conservationist readers and hunters keys to differentiating the two species seems irresponsible. We Missouri citizens rely on the MDC to take seriously its 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. Hunters do make mistakes, and we know all too well the stories surrounding past mistakes leading to the death of Whooping Cranes and other endangered species by hunters. How many King Rails can we sacrifice and still justify this "utility bird" hunting season?
Let's all show a bit more respect for these incredible bird species and their close, endangered relatives. And, if hunters need to "tune up for the fall hunting season", I suggest they sharpen their skills on clay pigeons and leave our native "utility birds" alone.