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Answering the Universal Pheasant Question

An official pheasant brood count is one method states use to determine the overall health of the pheasant populations.

“How are the pheasants doing?” As Pheasants Forever’s Regional Wildlife Biologist, this is the question I’m asked the most in North Dakota, and I know many other wildlife managers from other states are asked the same thing. Although this sounds like a simple inquiry, the answer can be hard to pinpoint.

Throughout the year, Pheasants Forever and wildlife agencies try to get a trend of pheasant populations. This starts in the spring with crow counts. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has pre-designated routes that employees follow each spring to determine the number of roosters they hear crowing in the morning. This data is compared each year to see if the number of roosters heard varied from previous years. This is a very non-scientific way to determine population, as it does not account for hens or chicks. However, it does show an angle to determine the number of roosters.

A more accurate measure of rooster populations is analyzing harvest data. Hunter surveys are distributed each year and harvest information is cataloged and compared to previous years. Since 2008, we have seen the number of roosters harvested decline each year in North Dakota.

Brood counts are more accurate in determining populations. Again, routes are traveled by wildlife managers to determine how many hen pheasants are seen, and numbers of chicks with each hen are counted. This is not an exact science, but again gives us a glimpse into how the pheasants are doing.

The #1 determination of how the pheasants are doing is directly correlated with the amount of habitat on the ground. Nesting cover, brood-rearing cover, and winter cover are the major determining factors when it comes to pheasant populations. Weather also plays a critical role. This has been a cold and wet spring for many states, and this can be harder on populations than a hard winter as chicks are very sensitive at this time. Across the Midwest, we are seeing losses in CRP acres, and this in turn will also effect pheasant populations.

We can’t control the weather, but we can create and enhance habitat to help the birds throughout the year. Tune in next week when I discuss nesting cover, the first of three in a series on wildlife habitat.

The Big Spur Blog is written by Jesse Beckers, Pheasants Forever’s Regional Wildlife Biologist for North Dakota. If you have a pheasant habitat or pheasant biology question for Jesse, email him at JBeckers@pheasantsforever.org.

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2 Responses to “Answering the Universal Pheasant Question”

  1. James says:

    It seems to me it is all about the mighty dollar when it comes to agriculture. With this day in age where grain prices are high and CRP don’t pay well, of course farmers and ranchers don’t want to waste there ground on our future hunting heritage. It seems to me no one cares about wildlife habitat its more about how many acres a person can put to wheat, milo, and corn, which I understand that we do need for food supply to pheasants and quail. The only people that care are people like us, who are members to this awesome quail and pheasant forever clubs, that can really relate to this depressing occurance. Its pretty hard to beat the crisp morning during pheasant season when you can go out with your friends, 2 legged or 4 legged, and have a long lasting memory of a great hunt. Thanks PF and QF for all that you do

    From Kansas

  2. James – Thanks for sharing your passion for wildlife and supporting Pheasants Forever. – Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor


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