Chicago hunting radio show host blames feral cats for decline of bobwhite quail

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  March 2013:

CHICAGO––Feral cat neuter/return advocates are apprehensive of an ongoing study of the ecological effects of feral cats,  funded by the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation,  after foundation president and WGN radio hunting program host Charlie Potter blamed feral cats for a continent-wide decline of bobwhite quail. “We have hundreds of thousands of feral cats now in Illinois,”  Potter fumed on the February 17,  2012 edition of his show The Great Outdoors.  “They might eat a barn mouse occasionally.  But mostly they’re living on ground-nesting birds,  especially pheasants and quail,”  Potter said,  according to Dave Gathman of the Chicago Tribune. Both WGN and the Chicago Tribune are owned by the Tribune Media Network.  Texas hunters alone shot 98 million bobwhite quail in 1960.  Florida hunters killed 2.5 million;  Virginia hunters killed one million.  By 2007,  according to National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative director Don McKenzie,  the U.S. bobwhite quail population had fallen by 80%.  Hunters bagged barely 5% as many as at peak. Blaming the decline on loss of brushy habitat,  resulting from farm mergers and more land being plowed,  the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative has focused on habitat restoration.  Ecological nativists also blame the loss of bobwhite quail on non-native plants taking over much of the remaining brushy habitat.  An alternate view,  unpopular among conservative-leaning hunters,  is that the decline of bobwhite quail and the success of non-native brush species both reflect global warming. Canadian toxicologists Pierre Mineau and Melanie Whiteside on February 20,  2012 published in the online journal PLOS One a review of U.S. Geological Service Breeding Bird Survey data from 1980 to 2003 which concluded that grassland birds,  such as bobqhite quail,  are four times more likely to be harmed by pesticide use than by any other factor. The Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation,  of East Dundee,  Illinois,  was founded in 1948 by electrical inventor and entrepreneur Max McGraw,  who died at age 81 in 1964 while hunting in Utah.  Leading the feral cat research is Ohio State University assistant professor of wildlife ecology Stanley D. Gehrt,  best known for studies of coyotes,  foxes, and Canada geese in the greater Chicago area. Radio-collaring 680 coyotes between 2000 and 2012,  Gehr estimates that as many as 2,000 coyotes share the greater Chicago area with about nine million humans.  The success of coyotes may have cut the red fox population by about two-thirds,  Gehrt found,  and may have completely extirpated grey foxes,  who are smaller and were apparently always fewer in red fox habitat. Rarely eating garbage and hunting domestic pets,  Gehrt learned,  urban coyotes mostly hunt rodents and rabbits,  supplementing their diets with seasonal fruit,  like rural coyotes,  all in year-round food competition with foxes. But urban coyotes also account for about 80% of successful predation on non-migratory giant Canada geese, Gehrt discovered through use of hidden video cameras.  Monitoring 200 non-migratory Canada goose nests in April and May 2005,  Gehrt found that more than 90% lost eggs to predators.  The geese were often able to fend off raids by raccoons and skunks,  but retreated from coyotes,  who would eat some eggs immediately and bury others to eat later. Gehrt presented some of his preliminary findings pertaining to feral cats at a December 2012 conference in Los Angeles hosted by the Humane Society of the U.S. “Among his findings,”  summarized Vox Felina blogger Peter Wolf,  “the feral cats he studied in the Chicago area have a 73% chance of living from one year to the next.  Over two years,  that translates to about a 50-50 chance,” better than the survival rates for urban and suburban raccoons and skunks.  This finding parallels the findings of ANIMAL PEOPLE assessments of the age structures at eight Connecticut feral cat colonies in 1991-1992. Continuing his research,  Gehrt “established colonies at six sites and,  from what I could tell,  is restocking them in order to maintain eight cats at each site.  Such an approach,”  Wolf wrote,  “strikes me as profoundly unnatural—raising serious questions about any subsequent results.”

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