By Jack Kredell
I was strolling through the Dick’s Sporting Good parking lot after buying a box of eight-shot when the question popped into my head: Why aren’t there any grouse here? The question wasn’t why aren’t there grouse in Pennsylvania (there are, I presume, enough), but why aren’t there any in this parking lot right now? Lining the sidewalk were double rows of Japanese barberry, ample cover for a grouse to lay low in when not foraging the 25 perfectly groomed crab apple trees on the other side of the lot. If this isn’t ideal grouse habitat, then I don’t know what is.
That evening as I was coming home from a grouse hunt, I stopped at a friend’s farm to ask him why he thought there weren’t any grouse in town. At first he looked at me like I was crazy. Then he leaned in towards me, almost too close for comfort, and whispered, “Owls.”
“Owls?” I asked.
“And hawks,” he replied.
In a state where most people worry about the impact of coyotes and bobcats on small game, the notion that owls were behind the grouse’s decline was news to me. He then explained that the reason why grouse numbers were so high in states like Maine and Michigan was because they paid a bounty of 10 dollars per claw for large avian predators and 10 dollars per ear for quadruped predators.
“They pay per claw or per toe?”
“Per digit I believe,” said my farmer friend.
Though neither of us knew the exact number of toes an owl has, we agreed it represented a substantial monetary amount. He went on to explain that the explosion in the owl population was due to the great lemming crash of 2014, which pushed the snowy owl further south. The heavy snows of that year created a travel corridor for the snowy owl that, when combined with the weak snowfall of the following year, put Pennsylvania’s grouse in dire straits because it didn’t have any fresh powder to burrow into and avoid detection by the snowy owl (in addition to other predators). I was left wondering how anything could survive this vicious junta of predators.
But that wasn’t all. Lurking behind the snowy owls and red-tailed hawks were the Feds. The carnage went unchecked because federal restrictions made it impossible for us hunters to control the owl and raptor populations that were decimating our small game.
So the answer is that there are no grouse in the Dick’s Sporting Goods parking lot because of snowy owls.