National Geographic : 1915 Aug
DUSKY GROUSE (Dendragapus obscurus obscurus). Range: Rocky Mountains from northern Utah and northern Colorado to cen tral western New Mexico and central Arizona, and west to East Humboldt Moun tains, Nevada. This large and beautiful grouse affords an excellent illustration of the effect of the gun on the disposition and habits of a game bird. An inhabitant of the moun tains and too small to be much hunted by the Indians when larger game was so abundant, this grouse in early days exhibited th t o the extreme of tameness and indif ference. I have many times seen parties of from six to a dozen that scarcely took the trouble to move out of the trail, so entirely unconscious of danger were they and so curious as to the errand of the intruder. Under such circumstances, when alarmed by a gun the flock is apt to betake itself to the nearest trees and sit motionless on the branches, evidently believing themselves to be invisible. The term "fool hen," by which they are known, rather aptly describes their conduct and demeanor on such occasions. Even the "fool hen," however, can profit by experience, and the lesson of caution once learned, it is as shy as it previously was tame. Its flesh is delicious eating and the mountain camper rarely loses an oppor tunity to feast on it. In spring the loud and sonorous hooting of the grouse com ing from some giant pine in ravine and canon, can be heard for long distances, and has such marked ventriloquial effect that it is difficult to locate the boomer or to tell whether he is far away or close at hand. HEATH HEN (Tympanuchus cupido). Range: Island of Marthas Vineyard, Massachusetts. 4 So late as the first year of the present century the heath hen was still more or less common in the Middle and Eastern States. Still earlier the bird was probably rather generally distributed over the territory east of the Alleghenies. We have no reason to be proud of the course taken by legislation in favor of the heath hen, though we need not go back to the last century 'for even more flagrant examples of the failure of protective legislation. First, as is usual in such cases, all legislation halted till the bird was well on the road to extinction. Then laws were passed, adequate enough, if properly enforced; but they were openly and frankly ignored or repealed or modified no doubt under the time-worn arguments of the present day: the importance to sportsmen of an open season; the need for meat; with the corollary, that the species at that particular period was in no danger. And the result was the same as in the case of the passenger pigeon, and as it will be soon in the case of the prairie chicken. Marthas Vineyard, Massachusetts, now holds the last pitiful remnant of this fine game bird which, under the protection of the State, has increased from a few couples to about two hundred. How long this little band of survivors will be able to hold fate at bay remains to be seen. It would seem to be the part of wis dom to found other colonies and so increase the chances of survival. PRAIRIE CHICKEN (Tympanuchus americanus americanus). Range: Southeastern Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba to eastern Colorado, northeastern Texas, Arkansas, western Kentucky, and Indiana. "The chicken" is a lover of the open prairie and as a substitute readily accepted the wheat and cornfields of the early settlers, in which it was, and still is, a valuable ally of agriculture. However great its value to the farmer, if we are to judge from present appearances, this fine prairie grouse must soon bewritten ofinthe past tense. Formerly abundant all over the Mississippi region from Manitoba south to Louisiana and Texas, and extending asfarwest asColorado, to-day only ascant remnant of its former numbers isleft, and this remnant isfast dwindling under the combined attacks of sportsmen who should know better, and ofgunners who neither know nor care for consequences. Ranging only ashort distance north of our boundaries, the prairie chicken isinthe strict sense ofthe word anAmerican game bird, and one must go farto find afiner. Being non-migratory, itisState property, and its fate rests solelywith the individual States within which itresides. Considering its past abundance, the fine sport itspursuit affords tothe legitimate sportsman, its delicacy for the table, and thevaluable service itrenders the farmer in destroying his insect enemies, the record ofitstreatment isashameful one. In many States no protection whatever was given the bird tillitsextinction was practically assured, while in theStates inwhich adequate legislation has been enacted, open seasons, too largebag limits, and inadequate enforcement ofthe laws have produced their inevitable effect. Nothing short ofaclosed season for a term of years will turn the tideand save this noble bird from extinction. SAGE HEN (Centrocercus urophasianus). Range: Sagebrush plains from middle southern British Columbia, southern Saskatchewan, and northwestern North Dakota tomiddle eastern California, northwestern New Mexico, and northwestern Nebraska. To make the acquaintance ofthe sage hen, the largest ofthe grouse family in the United States, one must leave theregion offorests and greenery and betake himself to the barren plains country where grows inabundance theeArtemisia or sage brush. This aromatic plant furnishes thebird not only safe cover but also food. Indeed, sage leaves constitute such alarge part ofthe regular fare ofthe old birds that their flesh becomesstrongly tainted, and hemust behungry indeed who relishes it. The flesh of the young, however, isexcellent. Owing toits large size and its tameness it makes the easiest ofmarks, and unless special attention is given to its preservation the bird will before long become rare. The yellow air sacs on the neck of themale areinflated toenormous size during the mating season, and together with hiscurious antics nodoubt suffice torender him irresistible to the female. SHARP-TAILED GROUSE(Pedicecetes phasianellus phasianellus). Range: Central Alaska and northwestern British Columbia east through cen tral Keewatin to central western Ungava, and south toLake Superior and the Parry Sound district, Ontario. The sharp-tailed grouse, including under this name itsthree forms, has anexten sive range in the far West, butformerly extended farenough eastward tomeet the range of the true prairie henin Wisconsin and Illinois where, however, ithas been nearly if not quite exterminated. Asarule, itinhabited wilder and rougher country than the prairie hen, and never was soabundant. The free useofthe shotgun in recent years has taught thesharp-tail some important lessons, and its wariness, seconded by its powerful wings, aresufficient toinsure theperpetuity of the species if the Western States inwhich itlives, profiting bythesad lesson of the prairie chicken and heathhen intheEast, afford itthe needed protection. Unless, however, its pursuit be carefully regulated, itsrace will soon berun, and another name added to the lengthening listofextinct American game birds.