Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Enthusiast hopes 'fire bird' can rise from the ashes

Loss of habitat puts sharp-tailed grouse at risk

  • Print

For some, conservation is all about grand plans to save the earth while others have developed a passion for certain species. Boris Bachynski of Winnipeg is an example of the latter. And when it comes to his beloved sharp-tailed grouse he is positively messianic.

"Sharp-tailed grouse fascinate me," said Bachynski. "It is through them, and their difficulties in certain parts of Manitoba, that I have developed a deep concern for landscape conservation."

Bachynski developed his love for the sharp-tail by hunting them. This sounds paradoxical but very quickly we hunters tend to become advocates for our prey as per the title of philosopher Paul Shepherd's book, The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game.

"My dad introduced me to upland bird hunting," explained Bachynski, "And I was fortunate to hunt these magnificent birds through the 'glory years' of the 1960s and '70s. Unfortunately it's been downhill for sharp-tails ever since."

I was a fairly young hunter in the 1970s but I can see, as if it were yesterday, the waves of sharp-tails that would flush from just about any bit of cover in the northern Interlake. Those days are long past and good sharp-tail hunts there are few and far between.

Sharp-tails are a mystery wrapped in an enigma. They seem to have disappeared from good habitat areas in the Interlake and west of Lake Manitoba, often referred to as "Westlake," but are thriving in the wheat fields of southwestern Manitoba.

Some attribute the southern Manitoba abundance to zero-tillage agriculture which dramatically reduces soil disturbance. Yet there is seemingly endless habitat in the Interlake and Westlake but few birds.

"Fire suppression has really done a number on sharp-tails," explained Bachynski. "In the old days fire would maintain the grassland habitats by eliminating encroachment by woody vegetation but many grasslands in the Interlake and Westlake are being covered in scrub vegetation which is not good sharp-tail habitat."

There is a clear relationship between sharp-tails and fire. And according to a Minnesota reference that Bachynski unearthed, aboriginal people referred to the sharp-tail as the "fire grouse" due to the species' habit of appearing like magic after a prairie fire. Sharp-tails also quickly appear in new forestry clear-cuts.

Manitoba has its own sharp-tail advocacy group known as Sharp-tails Plus. This dedicated group of upland bird hunters, to which Bachynski belongs, has conducted a number of projects across Manitoba designed to "bring the bird back."

These include an interpretive display at Oak Hammock Interpretive Centre, conducting prescribed burns in the Interlake, and mechanical brush removal in the Plumas area. These are small projects but the positive results show that certain management techniques do work.

Large-scale agriculture has also been a factor in the decline of the sharp-tails as more and more land was brought into grain production. The plight of the sharp-tail again reinforces the need for Canada and Manitoba to develop a program of incentives to assist producers in the conservation of wildlife and their habitats.

But in spite of these odds, Bachynski and other sharp-tail enthusiasts continue to forge on. I support this effort given my own deep attachment to the bird.

Bachynski is convinced that through a combination of good science-based management efforts and proper public policies, we can restore this magnificent game bird to its rightful place on the Manitoba lansdscape.

Bachynski is interested in hearing from anyone who would like to help. Call him at 204-895-1705 for more information.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2010 D9

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets players discuss outcome of Game 3 and hopes for Game 4

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Carolyn Kavanagh(10) had this large dragonfly land on her while spending time at Winnetka Lake, Ontario. photo by Andrea Kavanagh (mom0 show us your summer winnipeg free press
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local/Standup- BABY BISON. Fort Whyte Centre's newest mother gently nudges her 50 pound, female bull calf awake. Calf born yesterday. 25 now in herd. Four more calfs are expected over the next four weeks. It is the bison's second calf. June 7, 2002.

View More Gallery Photos


Will Connor McDavid make the Edmonton Oilers a playoff team?

View Results

Ads by Google