An iconic but little-known Adirondack bird is dipping toward extinction in the state and likely can only be saved by bringing birds from Canada or other states to strengthen breeding.
That is the conclusion of a new study on spruce grouse, a bird common in Canada but much less so in New York and the Northeast. After decades of decline, there are now just 100 or fewer specimens in three Adirondack counties.
Seldom seen by hikers, birders or hunters, are a fowl, similar to a chicken, that live in bogs and wetlands within evergreen forests of spruce, tamarack and balsam fir.
At the turn of the century, the bird occupied as many as seven Adirondack counties. As recently as the 1970s, there were an estimated 300 birds, but numbers have steadily dwindled as its habitat has shrunk. The bird is now on the state endangered species list. “We need to do something real soon, in the next few years,” said John Ozard, head of wildlife diversity for the state Department of Environmental Conservation..
Otherwise, odds now are 1-in-3 that spruce grouse will disappear from the Adirondacks by 2020, according to a DEC study released Friday. Those odds jump to 9-in-10 by the end of the century.
The birds also are becoming genetically vulnerable to being wiped out by illness because of inbreeding, so new blood is necessary for its survival, Ozard said.
He said Adirondack grouse appear to be closest genetically to those in the Canadian province of Ontario, so that would be the best place to supply new birds for the Adirondacks.
In 2008, Vermont wildlife officials brought in spruce grouse from Maine and Quebec to supplement that state’s declining population, now limited to the northeastern border with Canada. Ozard said the effectiveness of that effort is still being studied.
DEC’s tentative plan also calls for managing areas where spruce grouse can still live by cutting back trees. To thrive, the birds need a relatively young forest, with trees about 40 years of age, and with fewer large trees that create a canopy over the forest floor.
Surveys have found there are 15 sites in St. Lawrence, Franklin and Essex counties where birds remain, down from 23 places in 1987. Eleven sites are on private property, with the rest on state property in the forever-wild Forest Preserve. “The Forest Preserve cannot be cut, but private landowners can do this. So private property works in the bird’s favor,” said Ozard. “Private landowners will play a major role in this.”
DEC is taking public comments through March 1 on the plan, which can be found online at ftp://ftp.dec.state.ny.us/dfwmr/wildlife/spgr/
Make comments on firstname.lastname@example.org (include “spruce grouse plan” in the subject line) or to NYS DEC Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, Bureau of Wildlife, Spruce Grouse Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754.
Dark in color, the birds are about 15 to 17 inches long. The male has a distinctive red comb over each eye. During the summer, the birds feed almost exclusively on conifer needles, and in the summer, can also add berries, seed, mushrooms, leaves and some insects to its diet.
SOURCE: State Department of Environmental Conservation via timesunion.com, link to original post