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From Missouri Conservationist: May 2016

by Heather Feeler

Meet a Migrator: Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)

The vibrantly colored indigo bunting returns to Missouri this month, singing and chipping away through most of the summer. The sparrow-sized bird is a member of the cardinal family, which includes the scarlet and summer tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeak, and dickcissel. It frequents habitats where shrubs are in good supply — in a forest clearing, along rural roads, and in woodlands, savanna, and old fields.

The indigo color of the male bunting becomes visible in sunlight, shining as brightly as neon lights, but often appears dark or black when the sun is not shining. They sing their bouncy song for hours while perched high in trees or on power lines. The brown, cryptic females build open-cup nests and incubate eggs below shrubbery or low sapplings. Like many birds, the darker colored female buntings are difficult to see on a nest, which offers them some protection from predators.

Indigo buntings breed in the eastern and southwestern United States and migrate to Central America in winter. Some individuals migrate over 2,000 miles each spring and fall. Buntings are dauntless singers through the heat of summer. Visit a conservation area near you ( with shrubby cover or sites managed for savanna and woodland habitats, and listen for their upbeat song, which you can hear at

Celebrating Migratory Birds

The year 2016 marks the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty, signed in 1916 by the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada).

After 100 years of market hunting and unregulated use of migratory birds for their meat, feathers, and eggs, many bird populations had plummeted by the early 20th century. The federal government took action to stop further losses by signing the Migratory Bird Treaty. It specifically prohibits the hunting, killing, capturing, possession, sale, transportation, and exportation of birds, eggs, feathers, and nests. Hunting seasons were added later to help maintain healthy bird populations. The Migratory Bird Treaty — and three other similar treaties with Mexico, Russia, and Japan — form the cornerstones of migratory bird conservation across international borders.

The Treaty not only protects populations of migratory birds like the indigo bunting and many nonmigratory permanent resident birds like the northern cardinal, it also enhances our lives by ensuring that populations of diverse, beautiful birds are sustained for generations to come. The Department manages different natural communities across the state to provide stopover foraging habitats for these birds along their annual migration routes. For more information on the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial, visit birds/MBTreaty100.

Talking Feral Hogs

Feral hogs and the damage they cause to native wildlife and private, public, and agricultural lands continue to be a hot topic in Missouri. The Department recently released its first-quarter 2016 feral hog trapping numbers. The first three months of the year yielded a total of 955 hogs trapped by the Department, partner agencies, and private landowners, which is a 23-percent increase compared to the first quarter of 2015.

“We see this as very successful, although there are more hogs where those came from,” said Department Wildlife Management Coordinator Alan Leary. ”The key to eradicating these destructive, invasive pests is cooperation with private landowners and partners in efforts to report hog sightings, continue trapping, and deter hog hunting.”

Leary, who leads the Department’s feral hog eradication efforts, said while hunting is a very effective tool for managing populations of wildlife, feral hogs are not wildlife and the Department will not manage them. The goal is to eradicate them. He added that killing feral hogs for sport hinders efforts to eradicate them for a few reasons.

“Some hunters intentionally release feral hogs in new areas to establish populations to hunt,” Leary said. ”And hunters usually only shoot one or two hogs out of a group, while the rest scatter across the landscape and become more difficult to catch. Additionally, feral hogs have such a high reproductive rate that an entire group, called a sounder, must be removed at the same time for eradication efforts to be successful.”

Because of that high reproductive rate, more than 70 percent of a feral hog population has to be removed annually to decrease populations. Feral hogs are a serious threat to fish, forests, and wildlife as well as to agricultural resources. Feral hogs have expanded their range in the U.S. from 17 to 38 states over the past 30 years. Feral hogs are also known to carry diseases, such as swine brucellosis, pseudorabies, trichinosis, and leptospirosis, which are a threat to Missouri agriculture and human health.

The Missouri Conservation Commission approved recommended changes to the

Wildlife Code of Missouri in January that would prohibit taking feral hogs on lands owned, leased, or managed by the Department. The next step in the rulemaking process includes a 30-day public comment period on the proposed regulation changes, which will run from April 16 through May 15. Public comments can be submitted by mail to the Missouri Department of Conservation, Regulations Committee, PO Box 180, Jefferson City, Missouri 65102-0180 or online at gov/1QqDR6Z. Following final Conservation Commission consideration of citizen input and staff recommendations this summer, the anticipated effective date of the regulation changes will be Sept. 30, 2016.

Conservation Commission Actions

The March Commission meeting featured presentations and discussions regarding the

Northeast Missouri Wild Turkey Research Project, the Missouri Managed Woods Program, Strategic Guidance for Northern Bobwhite Recovery 2015–2025, major construction projects status report, vendor online permit sales implementation, monthly financial summary, and information technology projects status report. A summary of actions taken during the March 10–11 meeting for the benefit and protection of fish, forests, and wildlife and the citizens who enjoy them includes:

  • Recognized Laclede County Conservation Agent Jarad Milligan for receiving the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Missouri Wildlife Officer of the Year Award.
  • Recognized Private Land Services Division Chief Bill White for his recent Faces of Conservation Award from Quail Forever for his efforts to conserve wildlife habitat and support the overall conservation mission of Quail Forever.
  • Approved final recommendations of the Regulations Committee to limit the spread of
  • Chronic Wasting Disease to other portions of the state.
  • Approved a series of recommendations by the Regulations Committee to clarify Wildlife Code verbiage regarding feral hogs.
  • Approved a series of recommendations by the Regulations Committee for regulation changes identified during the annual review of the Wildlife Code.
  • Approved the advertisement and sale of 762,188 board feet of timber located on 298 acres of Compartment 2, Fox Valley Conservation Area (CA) in Clark County.
  • Approved entering into a contract for the construction of the Hunnewell Lake CA
  • Kettle Replacement Phases II and III project located in Shelby County. Federal funds are available to cover 75 percent of the total project cost.
  • Approved the purchase of 225.91 acres in Franklin County as an addition to Little Indian Creek CA.

The next Conservation Commission meeting is June 23–24. For more information, visit or call your regional Conservation office.

Record-Breaking Catch for Missouri Angler

Travis Cardona of Hillsboro made the state record books this spring when he shot a giant black buffalo at Duck Creek Conservation Area using a bow and arrow. The new alternative-method record black buffalo, taken by Cardona on March 14, weighed 74 pounds.

“Believe it or not, once I shot the giant, I didn’t know it was that big of a fish until it started swimming back to the boat,” Cardona said. “Believe you me, after it swam towards the boat, the fight was on.”

The new black buffalo record broke the previous alternative-method state record of 59 pounds, 8 ounces taken on the same body of water three days prior by David Burle of Bloomsdale.

“The month of March was full of potential record-breaking fish caught throughout the state,” said Department Fisheries Programs Specialist Andrew Branson. “This just goes to show you that conservation makes Missouri a great place to fish.”

Missouri state-record fish are recognized in two categories: pole-and-line and alternative methods. Bowfishing is considered an alternative method and consists of a bow or crossbow that shoots arrows attached to a string so that the fish can be retrieved after they’re pierced. Other alternative methods include throwlines, trotlines, limb lines, bank lines, jug lines, spearfishing, snagging, snaring, gigging, grabbing, and atlatl. For a full list of state records, go to

Free Fishing Days Set for June 11–12

Get hooked on fishing with the Department’s Free Fishing Days June 11–12. During Free Fishing Days, anyone can fish in the Show-Me State without purchasing a fishing permit, trout permit, or trout park daily tag. Normal regulations remain in effect, such as limits on size and number of fish an angler can keep. Special permits may still be required at some county, city, or private fishing areas, and trespass laws remain in effect on private property.

Conservation makes Missouri a great place to fish, and Free Fishing Days encourages people to sample the state’s abundant fishing opportunities. Missouri is blessed with more than a million acres of surface water, and most of it provides great fishing. More than 200 different fish species are found in Missouri, with 20 of them being game fish for the state’s more than 1.1 million anglers.

For information on Missouri fishing regulations, permit requirements, fish identification, and more, get a copy of the Department’s 2016 Summary of Missouri Fishing Regulations where permits are sold, at regional offices, and online at Anglers can also get weekly fishing reports, annual prospects, and more using the Department’s Find MO Fish app available at

Keeping Tabs on Turkey Research

The Missouri Department of Conservation recently completed its third winter of a five-year research project studying wild turkey survival and nesting success in northern Missouri. Information from the project, along with harvest data and hunter input, helps Department biologists manage Missouri’s wild turkey population — now and into the future.

The Department is conducting the research project in partnership with the University of Missouri, the University of Washington, and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).

Funding for the project comes from the Department, as well as grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Restoration Program and the George Clark Missouri State Chapter of the NWTF.

As part of the research project, wild turkeys are captured by firing a rocket-net over the birds, then biologists quickly band them and fit them with radio transmitters, releasing them a few minutes later at the same location where they were captured. Researchers then use radio telemetry to track turkeys throughout the year.

“Having updated information from the field is important to our wild turkey management program,” said Jason Isabelle, the Department’s statewide turkey biologist and lead on the research project. “With this information, we will work with our partners to develop population models that will be an important part of how the Conservation Department monitors turkey populations in the future.”

Information from the project will also be used to evaluate hunting regulations. Resultsof the project, thus far, indicate that hunters are removing a rather small percentage of the turkey population.

“During the first two years of the project, hunters harvested less than 20 percent of the adult gobblers that were being radio-tracked during the spring season,” said Isabelle. “These are some of the lowest harvest rates that have been reported, which has important implications for our hunting regulations.”

Researchers are currently tracking about 200 turkeys. As the nesting season approaches, hens (female turkeys) will be tracked intensively to provide information about nesting success. Researchers will also track gobblers (male turkeys) intensively during the upcoming spring hunting season. Hunters that harvest a banded turkey are urged to call the toll-free phone number inscribed on the band. This information is important to the success of the project.

Get to Know Missouri’s Crayfishes

No matter what you call them — crayfish, crawfish, crawdads, or even mud bugs — these colorful, quirky, and fascinating animals are one of the largest and most recognized invertebrates in Missouri’s lakes, streams, and wetlands. They’re also important to our landscape and way of life. Missouri has at least 36 species of crayfish and, while some species are abundant in the state, Department scientists have identified 20 types of Missouri crayfish as species of conservation concern.

The Department recently updated and thoroughly revised its Guide to Missouri’s Crayfishes publication. This guide is designed to help general readers discover, appreciate, and conserve crayfish found in Missouri. Organized by habitat, the book features detailed photos, illustrations, distribution maps, and easy-to-scan descriptions so readers can quickly identify and learn about each species, and where they are most likely to find them. This free publication is available at local nature centers, Department regional offices, and online at

What Is It?

Monarch Caterpillar | Larva

Before a monarch (Danaus plexippus) emerges from its chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly, it starts as a tiny green egg attached to the underside of a leaf, usually on a milkweed plant. After about three days, it hatches into a tiny caterpillar. The monarch caterpillar begins eating plant leaves, but only those from the milkweed family. During the next 10 days, the caterpillar will grow bigger and develop beautiful yellow, black, and white bands on its body. Between feedings, it molts, or sheds, skin as it grows. Once it has shed its smaller skin, it leaves behind a crumpled mass of dark material called molt. When the caterpillar is about 2 inches long, it will stop eating and start looking for a place to make its chrysalis and begin the next stage of life.

—photograph by Noppadol Paothong

Did You Know?

Conservation makes Missouri a great place to fish

Find Great Fishing Info Online

Before you wet a line, go online to browse Missouri’s fishing seasons and

regulations, buy permits, find prime fishing spots, and get other info to

make the most of every fishing trip.

  • Get your fishing permit anytime you need it at You can filter permits by species or type.
  • Explore the best places to fish near you or around the state at There you can investigate public fishing areas, browse trout areas, check out the fishing reports, view the boat ramp and fish attractors maps, and download the free Find MO Fish app.
  • Check fishing seasons by date or species at
  • Be sure and brush up on the regulations for the kinds of fish you like to catch and the areas you want to fish at
  •  Browse almost 200 Missouri live-bait dealers at
  • These folks sell only approved species that help you avoid spreading harmful aquatic animals, such as rusty crayfish and Asian carp minnows.
  • Not sure what you caught or if it’s legal to keep it? Identify a variety of Missouri game and nongame fish, as well as their regulations, seasons and hours, permits, and limits at
  • Learn more about what we’re doing and what you can do to protect
  • Missouri’s great fishing from threats like zebra mussels, didymo, and invasive crayfish at You can also find waderwashing stations and browse fish-management plans there.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Art Director - Cliff White
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler