Up the Creek: By Ken Blomberg
By Ken M. Blomberg
The eagle flew low, just above treetops. His found his mate, perched in a bare tree on the edge of a harvested cornfield. There, she guarded remains of last week’s gut pile left by a successful deer hunter. As the larger eagle approached, two ravens hastily left the scene, flying across the road to another gut pile on a neighboring property. Leftovers, fit for kings of nature’s avian food chain and cleanup crews – right down to merry chickadees and nuthatches.
Across the landscape these days, scavengers are taking advantage of a bounty of tons of nutritious food. Calorie laden fat and organs fueling the furnaces of birds and mammals. The shooting that began on opening day awakened the senses of canine predators like the Mead wolf pack – hidden away in conifer bogs scattered across the wildlife area and private lands west of our place along the creek.
Under the cover of darkness, they raise their nostrils and follow the scent. One gut pile to the next. For weeks on end, they will comb the countryside mostly undetected and feast on the bounty provided unwittingly by humans. Several seasons ago, a young member of our hunting party shot and field dressed a small doe before lunch. When he returned to his stand 2 hours later, the gut pile had completely disappeared! At dusk that same day, my nephew and I spotted 2 wolves standing over another gut pile. Our suspicions were answered.
Gut piles are also magnets for small songbirds. I’ve watched over more than my fair share of remains and have come to the conclusion that chickadees are the winners in the race to the plate. Following close behind are jays, woodpeckers and nuthatches. No wonder. Who’s in line at your backyard suet feeders?
The Winona Daily News reported last month the University of Minnesota Extension was participating in “Offal Wildlife Watching” across Minnesota. “The purpose of this research is to better understand what and when species use deer gut piles provided by hunters across the state…Researchers are looking for hunters with their own game camera to set the camera on their gut pile and leave it to record pictures of when and what animals come in to use the gut pile for one month. Hunters are uniquely positioned to record everything that comes to feed on that gut pile by setting up a camera immediately after field dressing a deer.”
Wisconsin DNR’s estimated total deer kill for the 2018 season was unavailable by my deadline. But it’s safe to say it’ll be at or near last year’s levels of 320,039 from all seasons. At an average of 30 pounds per gut pile, that’s 9.6 million pounds statewide of feed for mammal, bird and insect predators. Rest assured, nothing goes to waste in nature!