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Game Birds and Hunting

Hunting Can Help Bird Conservation


California Quail

Hunting game birds can be beneficial.

Kevin Cole

Game birds can be fine additions to any birder's life list, and it can be a controversial topic in the birding world that those same birds can also be prize additions to a hunter's quarry. Birders and hunters are not enemies, however, and hunting plays an important role in bird conservation.

About Game Birds

Game birds are any birds that can be legally hunted, and there are more than 150 species of game birds in the world. Popular game birds include species of:

  • Geese
  • Swans
  • Ducks
  • Quail
  • Partridges
  • Pheasants
  • Grouse
  • Doves
  • Rails
  • Cranes

The exact birds open for hunting in any given location will vary widely based on factors such as the current population of those birds and any threatened or endangered status, the birds' breeding season and local laws. Birds that are hunted in one area may be prohibited in another, and depending on the population growth of a species, hunters may be permitted to take different numbers of birds in different years to avoid overtaxing the populations.

Birding and Hunting: Friends or Foes?

At first thought, it may seem as though hunting and birding are incompatible, but in reality many birders are excellent hunters and many hunters are strong conservation advocates. Where controversy erupts is when hunting regulations only take into account one region without studying the larger potential impact of hunting a particular bird species. For example, a bird species that is abundant in one state may be threatened or endangered in another. Few states or countries coordinate hunting regulations, and hunting in one state may inadvertently deplete the birds that would migrate to another.

How Hunting Helps Birds

Carefully controlled hunting can be beneficial to birds. Adjusting take limits on game birds is a method of population control that will keep the birds from overpopulating an area and depleting resources. Furthermore, hunting typically removes the less suitable birds from the breeding population, and only the strongest and smartest birds will be available to produce further generations. In some cases, awareness of hunting populations encourages stocking areas with game birds bred in captivity that can help replenish wild populations if not all the birds are eventually hunted.

The behavior of bird hunters also helps promote bird conservation in the long run. Hunters are well aware that if birds are over hunted, they will not be available for further sport. Many hunters strongly promote bird conservation through habitat preservation and responsible hunting. Different regulations and hunting programs are also in place to ensure the protection of the very birds that are hunted. In the United States, all duck and waterfowl hunters are required to purchase a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp to serve as a hunting license, and approximately 98 percent of the purchase price of every stamp is used to preserve and protect wetlands and other waterfowl habitat that hundreds of bird species, many of which will never be hunted, can benefit from.

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Photo – California Quail © Kevin Cole

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