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Buffalo Gnats Killing Turkeys and Other Small Game

by Brenda Potts 18. April 2011 09:31
Brenda Potts

We just returned from a successful turkey hunt in Greene County, Illinois but did not see great numbers of turkeys. The landowner told us they used to see 50 to 75 birds in one flock and heard gobblers all over the local woods, but this year it was different. In fact, he mentioned a slow decline in bird populations of nearly all species. His opinion is that Buffalo Gnats are killing turkeys and other birds and he makes a compelling case.

According to the landowner, last year his neighbor had several chickens that would not come out of the coop in daylight hours. He noticed that a single chicken would race out of the coop, gobble down some feed, get a drink and race back into the coop where it was dark. Apparently Buffalo Gnats prefer bright daylight. This kept up all day, with individual birds exhibiting the same behavior. Another neighbor had a permit to raise quail and all 200 of his birds died within a few days. Other neighbors were finding song birds dead in the yard.
They started talking and sharing stories and observing their birds more closely. Before long most came to the conclusion that Buffalo Gnats were killing the birds. They examined the dead bodies and found a common recurrence, all the bird's nasal cavities were jam packed full of gnats, suffocating the birds.

Our friend has video of two jakes apparently pestered by the gnats. They shake their heads, tuck them under their wings and basically seem quite agitated by the swarms of biting insects. 
I have looked online for other stories about Buffalo Gnats and it seems they have just started appearing in Illinois in the past few years. They are only prevalent for a few weeks, but it does coincide with good turkey hunting. The insects also bite humans, but sprays and Thermacells work quite nicely in thwarting their attack on us. It's the birds that are suffering most.
Whether the Buffalo Gnats are causing enough problems to actually kill significant numbers of turkeys, I don't know. But I would love to hear what others are experiencing with these insects and their impact on bird populations in your areas.

Most of the gobblers we encountered during first season were "henned up," except for the three that I called in about an hour and a half after sunrise. They had answered me from the roost but did not come in directly. Instead, they must have been following a hen. She passed behind me about an hour after daylight and she and I got into quite a calling contest. The gobblers showed up about 15 minutes later and all three came out to the decoys.  I do love the run and gun technique, but once in awhile it pays to just stay put and let them come to you.


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