Ecologists use the term “niche partitioning” to explain how different species divvy up habitat types so as not to compete with one another.

The pheasant, for instance, seems more comfortable in open spaces, often flushing out over grassy swales or cut corn stubble. Perhaps relying on his explosive flush to startle any would-be predator, he places nothing but thin air between himself and his pursuer.

Being preferred food for the goshawk and the cooper’s hawk, evolution has instilled in the grouse and woodcock the good sense to remain in dense cover. Even in their escape flight, they will weave deftly through alders and popple, placing obstacles in the path of both winged predators and shot. Occasionally they make mistakes.

I was walking a field edge while my hunting companions Jeff and his dog Bear worked the heavy cover for woodcock. Bear locked up on point. Jeff signaled me to get ready then eased in on the staunch short-hair.

The bird blasted from underfoot and out over the open field in front of me. Oops! No sooner had the little timberdoodle hit open space, when it made a corrective curve back toward cover. It was too late. My gun was shouldered and tension already being applied to the trigger. It was a classic going-away shot of the kind often reproduced in fine sporting art.

Unfortunately, the best I could manage was to blow two rather large holes in the sky, my shot strings touching nary a feather.

Not to worry though, for the flights were in and there were more birds to be had. In short order, Jeff and I each had our three, and called it a hunt.

“That was a pretty productive cover,” he remarked. I agreed, overtly, but chuckled to myself over the irony.

The last time I’d visited the place was in the spring. The same place often held turkeys. They’d roost in a stand of pines to the west, and spend their mornings and afternoons strutting around in the open field. The east side, where Jeff and Bear bulled through, was a tangle of wet ground and shrubs, and I cursed it for being all but worthless as turkey habitat. Now, here I was, five months later, in what proved to be quite productive cover for woodcock.

And those pines on the other side, there was a time when I cursed them too. “What good are they for game,” I’d say.

They provide no food, except perhaps for the pesky red squirrels that can turn a peaceful afternoon on a deer stand into a nerve-wracking ordeal. I did concede they usually made for a decent place to hang a tree stand, if you didn’t mind getting your hands covered in pitch.

Then along came wild turkeys, followed several years later by wild turkey seasons. I quickly learned that while turkeys don’t eat pines, they sure like to roost in them, more than any other tree in the forest. Suddenly, stands of big white pines had some value to someone other than a forester.

Some of my earliest hunts were for pheasant, which we flushed from the grassy swales along the edge of a large floodplain. We cursed the flooded areas for their inaccessibility and relative uselessness as pheasant habitat, until one fateful morning.

A friend and I were working the edges when a big cock pheasant flushed ahead. I don’t recall who shot, or if we even hit the bird. It was what came after that remains indelibly etched in my memory. Ducks!

Dozens of them flushed from the potholes and river eddies, circling ever higher overhead. We poured lead skyward and to my astonishment, one actually fell. The prize was so unexpected we didn’t even know what kind of duck it was. Overnight, those worthless mud holes became duck hunting honey holes.

I guess when you take a step back and put things into perspective, it’s hard to condemn almost any type of undeveloped habitat.

Those nasty clear-cuts overgrown, so thick with brambles and slash the upland hunter cannot pass, are a virtual salad bar for snowshoe hare and moose. Turkeys will strut in a clover field no self-respecting pheasant, grouse or woodcock will expose themselves in.

Those seemingly barren beech ridges, nearly devoid of deer sign, will benefit a bevy of bears every couple years.

Even the eutrophic bog ponds that mallards and black ducks turn their noses up at provide nesting, feeding and stopover habitat for the likes of hooded mergansers and bufflehead.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer, Registered Maine Guide and a certified wildlife biologist who provides consultation to private landowners interested in improving wildlife habitat. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]