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The ongoing extreme heat and drought that's making so many people miserable can be deadly for Kansas wildlife.

From big buck deer to tiny songbirds, animals die from the drought or from environmental conditions it creates.

It's also choking the life out of a couple of world-class wetlands that attract millions of migrating birds every fall and winter.


A lack of running water caused by the drought could bring problems for Kansas deer.

Lloyd Fox, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism big-game program coordinator, fears deer drawn to stagnant water holes will be bitten by the midges that infects them with epizootic hemorrhagic disease.

"EHD is a deer killer," Fox said. "Things are setting up for an outbreak."

Though animals could be infected now, Fox said most deaths occur in late summer and early fall. He said EHD can cause blood vessels to swell or leak. It can also cause a high fever. Many of the deer die in or near water.

The last serious EHD outbreak in Kansas was in the late 1980s. Fox found six dead deer on less than a mile of creek south of Junction City.

Some states have reported the disease has killed 50 percent of an area's deer herd. Fox said a significant frost or "gully-washing rain" is needed end the EHD threat.


Last year was one of the best pheasant and quail seasons in memory for hunters in south-central and southwestern Kansas.

This year could be one of the worst in memory.

"Drought is bad for a couple of reasons," said Jim Pitman, Wildlife and Parks small-game coordinator. "When you don't get early rain, hens (pheasants) have little vegetative growth for nesting."

It can also cause an early wheat harvest that sees thousands of nests and pheasant chicks killed by farm machinery. It also leaves the birds and nests more visible to predators.

Drought and heat after that time is just as bad.

Pitman said dry conditions lead to poor populations of insects, a critical food source for growing pheasant and quail chicks.

Heat this extreme can easily kill young and adult birds because they have no way to regulate their body heat.

It's especially poorly timed for quail, which hatch in late June and early July.

Pheasant chicks hatch a few weeks earlier. The added growth can help them endure drought conditions.

Still, some western Kansas farmers say they've never seen such a poor pheasant hatch.

Pitman said there are a few bright spots in Kansas. He's predicting average pheasant production in parts of northwest and north-central Kansas because of timely rains.

Doves usually do well in heat and drought because they can fly to find water and cover.


Doug Nygren, Wildlife and Parks fisheries chief, said warm temperatures, decreasing water levels and vegetation die offs can all leave less oxygen in the water and cause fish kills.

Last week's huge fish die off at Santa Fe Lake is blamed on a lack of oxygen in the now-shallow lake. Catfish up to about 40 pounds were among the mortalities.

He advised owners of private waters to not treat aquatic vegetation with chemicals under current conditions. Those who feed fish should cut the amount or totally suspend feeding until cooler conditions.

Feeding often results in stepped-up metabolisms, which take more oxygen from the water.


Though it can cause them stress, most species of songbirds can weather heat and drought by looking for shade and water.

Purple martins, however, don't do well because they instinctively nest in the open. That puts them in the sun about every hour of daylight.

"They can really take it on the nose," said Max Thompson, a retired professor at Southwestern College. "(A friend) called on the Fourth of July and said he'd lost 33 of 90 young in his purple martin houses. He probably has lost more since."

Much of the mortality comes when chicks try to get out of the hot houses, fall to the ground and are eaten by predators.


There's not a lot of wet in Kansas' two world-class wetlands - the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

Water is shallow at the Big Salt Marsh and reduced levels at the Little Salt Marsh, said Dan Severson, Quivira's manager. Most of Rattlesnake Creek and lesser marshes are dry.

Karl Grover, Cheyenne Bottoms manager, said they're holding about 40 inches of water in one large pool but evaporation is taking a toll.

"It doesn't look too promising for fall if we don't get some rain," he said. "But that's not all bad."

Staffs at both wetlands have been taking advantage of current conditions to eradicate unwanted vegetation such as cattails.

Grover said he's seeing growth of some desirable vegetation that could produce great duck and goose feeding areas if Cheyenne Bottoms gets late summer or early fall moisture.

About five years ago, the area was close to going dry when heavy rains hit and flooded most of the vegetation just before teal season. It was one of the best hunting seasons in the area's modern history.

Grover has seen the area totally dry only two or three times in his 25 years at Cheyenne Bottoms.

Severson said dry cycles are part of the natural history of marshes. Some animals do well under such conditions.

The annual south-bound shorebird migration is just beginning and birds such as avocets are feeding on the many acres of mudflats at Quivira.

He also said the marsh usually starts getting re-charged by ground water in about October. That and a few rains could produce enough habitat to attract and hold what can be up to a million geese, sandhill cranes and ducks.

If the marsh is dry all fall and winter, it doesn't mean it is bad news for the birds.

"They've got decent water in other places like Nebraska and east of here," Severson said. "Birds are so capable of knowing where to go to find the good food sources or habitat. I don't think this will impact the birds that much."

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