Archive for the ‘Pheasants’ Category
Thursday, August 28th, 2014
This year the statewide index is 17.4 birds/route, a 151 percent increase from the 2013 estimate. This year’s statewide count is the highest seen in over 6 years dating back to 2008.
Based on this year’s statewide index, Iowa pheasant hunters are expected to harvest between 200,000 and 300,000 roosters.
Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks has completed the annual pheasant brood survey and the results show a 76 percent increase in the statewide pheasants-per-mile index from 2013: 2014 Pheasant Outlook.
Despite the 76 percent bump this year, South Dakota statewide pheasant numbers are still a long ways from the recent modern highs of the mid-to late 2000s, checking in at 53 percent below the long-term average. The statewide pheasant-per-mile index is similar to 2002 when hunters harvested 1.26 million roosters.
Additional South Dakota pheasant resources:
Monday, August 25th, 2014
The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks just recently completed their annual pheasant count. While the results won’t be available for a couple weeks, from everyone’s observations it appears as though pheasant numbers could be up from last year’s dismal count. If that’s true, that will be good news not only for South Dakota pheasant hunters but also for the countless businesses that benefit from the millions of dollars in revenue the tradition generates annually. Pheasant hunting is a true bellwether of the high quality of life South Dakotans have come to cherish. Supporting the habitat necessary to this time honored tradition benefits all South Dakotans economically, in clean waters and quality of life.
But if there indeed is an increase in pheasant numbers, that good news needs to be tempered. The “pheasant crisis” South Dakota has experienced over the past few years has not been solved. The findings will simply mean that a winter, spring and summer conducive to survival rates for adults and their broods have ticked the pheasant count upward. Next year may bring a far different set of circumstances.
If South Dakota truly wants to increase and stabilize its pheasant population, the issue of declines in pheasant habitat must be addressed. While tough winters and wet springs play a role in population changes, it’s the loss of habitat that’s responsible for the long-term decline of pheasants in the state. This habitat loss is the result of CRP and native prairie conversion, as well as drained wetlands and cattail sloughs. Since 2006, more than 450,000 acres of grasslands and prairies in South Dakota have been converted from wildlife habitat to row crops.
That is why I and many others are so hopeful about the upcoming recommendations of the Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Work Group. The Work Group has a unique opportunity before it to make policy recommendations that will permanently increase and stabilize pheasant populations by addressing the primary problem – habitat. There are dozens of different programs and practices that can be implemented to create higher quality habitat including: CRP, buffers, pollinator plots and cattail sloughs, as well as preserving all the areas that are difficult to farm that often have a lower cost-benefit ratio. There are also opportunities to better manage tremendous existing habitat throughout South Dakota, such as Waterfowl Production Areas, Game Production Areas, school lands, tribal lands and roadside ditches, for wildlife that is already on the ground.
Without addressing the problem of declining habitat, South Dakota will face a future of lower pheasant numbers, punctuated by population crashes as dictated by harsh winters, wet springs and/or drought. The resulting “boom-bust” cycle will not only have a negative effect on South Dakota’s time-honored family tradition of pheasant hunting, it will be devastating to businesses and their employees ranging from motels to restaurants to guide services to sporting goods stores. When populations are healthy, pheasant hunting brings $223 million into South Dakota each year and creates 4,500 jobs.
South Dakota has a unique opportunity to not only significantly improve pheasant habitat for the long-term, it can show that through creative management practices that farming and wildlife can be compatible. It does not have to be an either/or situation. Both industries are vitally important to this state and I believe South Dakota’s inherent can-do attitude will make it possible to have a strong agricultural industry and productive wildlife habitat that will not only produce an abundance of pheasants and other game, but also help assure cleaner water and healthier grasslands.
I am looking forward to seeing the official results of the road count and what I hope will be good news. I am also looking forward to the recommendations of the governor’s task force and the subsequent actions of policy makers that will hopefully help to assure that South Dakota will forever be known as the “Pheasant Capital of the World.”
-Dave Nomsen leads Pheasants Forever’s new Regional Headquarters in Brookings, S.D.
Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
Jim Hautman, a Minnesota wildlife artist and four-time winner of the prestigious Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest, has had his work named as Pheasants Forever’s Print of the Year for the fifth time. “Busting Out,” Pheasants Forever’s 2014-2015 Print of the Year, will be available at Pheasants Forever chapter banquets to help raise funds for upland conservation efforts.
Hautman is thrilled to once again be contributing to Pheasants Forever’s mission. “I was trying to depict the excitement of birds flushing at the end of a field,” explained Hautman. “I wanted the location of the old farm building to suggest that the low area had been farmed in the past, probably during drought years, but has now returned to its natural habitat. This is the kind of area where I’ve had my best pheasant action.”
Since 1984 (two years after Pheasants Forever’s formation), Pheasants Forever has selected an annual Print of the Year – limited-edition prints that local Pheasants Forever chapters have used to raise funds for their area conservation efforts. Artists including Robert Hautman, the late James Meger (a record six Pheasants Forever Print of the Year selections), Rosemary Millette and more have contributed to Pheasants Forever’s wildlife habitat mission as Print of the Year artists.
Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
Nesting conditions were favorable across much of the Midwest this spring, and drought-stricken regions across the Great Plains and the western reaches of pheasant country finally received a respite. Summer brood surveys conducted in July and August will be the best indicator of what upland hunters can expect afield, but in areas with available habitat, overall conditions appear more promising than last season in many states. Pheasants Forever’s annual Pheasants Hunting Forecast will be released in September. To receive it, sign up here.
Quail Forever’s Quail Nesting Habitat Conditions report will be released in early August.
Colorado - While spring call counts were down 44 percent from last year, drought conditions have moderated across much of the state’s core pheasant range, according to Ed Gorman, small game manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “Overall nesting conditions are good, but the spring breeding population is much lower in 2014 than in previous years,” Gorman says, “Conditions range from significantly better to slightly better depending on the specific area.
Idaho – Like many states in the west, a mild winter with subsequent spring rains left Idaho’s upland habitat in excellent shape for nesting upland birds, according to Jeff Knetter, gamebird biologist with the Idaho Fish and Game Department.
Illinois – Mild weather conditions persisted across much of the Illinois pheasant range, but despite the window Mother Nature provided, poor upland habitat conditions continue to plague the state’s pheasant population. “Nesting cover is limited and many areas have too much aesthetic mowing during critical nesting periods,” says Stan McTaggart, Illinois Department of Natural Resources program manager for agriculture and grasslands, “Many of the available grassy areas (i.e. waterways, buffer strips and older CRP plantings) are too thick to provide good nesting cover. Areas that are properly managed have had decent weather to support successful nesting.”
Indiana - Results from Indiana’s spring crow count had just been concluded at publish time and will be included in Pheasants Forever’s annual Pheasant Hunting Forecast in early Sept.
Iowa - Iowa’s unseasonably cold and snowy winter and wet spring is not likely to boost its pheasant population. Pheasants typically show population increases following mild winters with spring that are warmer and dryer than normal. Based on that weather model, the western third of Iowa has the best chance to see an uptick in pheasants due to below average snowfall and less than eight inches of spring rain. The weather model predicts the rest of the state to see either no population increase or fewer birds than last year.
Kansas – Kansas’ 2014 pheasant crowing survey indicated a 7 percent decrease statewide, or very similar numbers to last year, according to Jeff Prendergast, small game biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. And while drought led to poor upland habitat conditions early in the spring, precipitation in May began greatly improving nesting and brood-rearing conditions. “Summer rains delayed wheat harvest and created excellent conditions for re-nesting,” Prendergast notes.
Michigan - “I think pheasant numbers are good,” said Al Stewart, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources upland gamebird specialist. “I think they came through the winter better than most people anticipated.” Michigan’s summer brood count will ultimately provide a better indication of this year’s population trend.
Minnesota - For the second consecutive year, Minnesota experienced late-season snowstorms and a wet spring. This was followed by extremely heavy rainfall amounts during June, especially during the first three weeks of the month during which the peak pheasant hatch typically occurs, according Nicole Davros, upland game project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
June 2014 was Minnesota’s wettest June (and wettest month) of modern record, with most areas of the state’s pheasant range receiving more than 8” of rainfall – and some receiving 10”-14”. “Extreme cold paired with heavy rains can significantly reduce chick survival, but it is worth noting that average monthly temperatures were close to normal during June. The near-normal temperatures may have helped reduce the number of young chicks lost due to weather exposure,” Davros said.
Reports of pheasant broods being sighted have trickled in slower than usual. “Young broods were observed even after heavy rainfall events in June which is good news indicating that some young chicks survived the rains. Although hens that successfully hatched chicks and later lost them will not re-nest, any hens that lost their eggs to the heavy rains will have time to re-nest. Overall reports so far indicate that the peak pheasant hatch may be slightly delayed this year. Sportsmen and women might expect to see some fairly young birds in the fields again this fall.”
Montana - Montana pheasants came through winter mostly unscathed thanks to mild weather, and nesting conditions were promising during the prime production period. In fact, last year’s favorable weather generated some of the best habitat conditions in Montana in a long time.
Nebraska - Will be updated soon.
North Dakota - North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up slightly from last year, according to the State Game and Fish Department’s 2014 spring crowing count survey. Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up about 6 percent statewide from 2013, with increases ranging from 2 percent in the northwest to 9 percent in the southeast.
Last year, the fall population was down from 2012 because of rather poor production, but Kohn said low winter pheasant mortality, particularly in the southern one-third of the state, helped boost this year’s spring count.
Another positive is that abundant moisture has provided for good habitat conditions heading into the prime nesting period. “Spring weather has been pretty good for nesting/early brood rearing,” Kohn said, “The only possible impact might be heavy rains (2”-6”) in the southwest part of state, the heart of the pheasant range. We’re not sure yet what impacts may have resulted from these heavy that came when chicks were hatching to 10 days old.” Overall, Kohn expected nesting success to be average to above average.
Ohio – the rainy, cool weather in Ohio this nesting season has not been ideal for upland nests or broods.
Oklahoma – Scott Cox, upland game biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, says a few more pheasants are being seen this year compared to this time last year, thanks to decent moisture that broke more than two years of drought. Coming off a season in which hunters harvested nearly 35,000 ringnecks, the improved conditions – forbs and grass height have rebounded – have Cox cautiously optimistic about nesting this year.
Oregon - Coming off a season in which hunters harvested their lowest number of pheasants in the past two decades (19,930 birds), Oregon looks poised for a slight rebound. Winter/spring precipitation during 2014 was still below average but improved over 2013,” says Dave Budeau, upland game bird coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, “Production is expected to improve over last year.”
South Dakota - Weather conditions were favorable for pheasant production over most of the primary pheasant range from late April through June, reports Travis Runia, South Dakota Game, Fish and Park’s lead pheasant biologist. “Below normal winter snowfall likely resulted in above average overwinter survival of pheasants,” Runia said, “With more hens available for nesting, the potential for an increase in population exists, given favorable nesting conditions.”
Runia says adequate spring moisture and normal temperatures have allowed grasses and forbs to flourish. “Reproductive success should be good in areas where large blocks of nesting habitat remain,” he adds. The major exception was record flooding in extreme southeastern South Dakota. “Areas around Sioux Falls shattered all time June rainfall records, which almost certainly resulted in destroyed nests and reduced survival of pheasant chicks,” Runia says.
Washington - Pheasant hunters here are optimistic about nesting success, as adequate April moisture had cover looking lush, according to Joey McCanna, upland game bird specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Wisconsin - The winter of 2013-14 provided some challenges for pheasants across Wisconsin, and conditions in localized areas may have been severe enough to impact survival or bird numbers. “This was a more severe winter than usual across much of Wisconsin’s pheasant range, with bitterly cold temperatures and persistent snow cover,” said Scott Walter, Wisconsin DNR upland wildlife ecologist. Snow persisted into April across much of Wisconsin’s pheasant range, and persistent rain into June may have dampened production. “Whether or not spring weather conditions impacted pheasant production levels will be determined when we see the results of our summer brood surveys, and will really depend upon the timing of heavy rains relative to the peak hatch period. We did have weeks of relatively dry weather in June, and hopefully these provided a window of good survival for pheasant chicks,” added Walter.
Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014
North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up slightly from last year, according to the State Game and Fish Department’s 2014 spring crowing count survey.
Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up about 6 percent statewide from 2013, with increases ranging from about 2 to 9 percent depending on the region.
While the spring number is a positive indicator, Kohn said it does not predict what North Dakota’s fall population will look like. Brood surveys, which begin in mid-July and are completed by September, provide a much better estimate of summer pheasant production and what hunters might expect for a fall pheasant population.
Last year, the fall population was down from 2012 because of rather poor production, but Kohn said low winter pheasant mortality, particularly in the southern one-third of the state, helped boost this year’s spring count.
Another positive is that abundant moisture has provided for good habitat conditions heading into the prime nesting period. However, Kohn noted that since 2008, North Dakota has lost more than 2 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, much of it in the pheasant range. That means total nesting habitat in the state is significantly reduced from where it was when the spring crowing count index peaked in 2008.
The 2014 index is down about one-third from that peak. “Loss of CRP acres continue to reduce the amount of nesting and brood-rearing habitat on the landscape,” Kohn emphasized. “This and other grassland conversion is going to negatively affect our pheasant population in the future.”
Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop.
The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to previous years’ data, providing a trend summary.
Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
Heavy rains have fallen in recent weeks in the Marshall, Minn. area. A pheasant destination for resident and nonresident hunters alike, many are wondering how excessive rain totals – more than 20 inches in some areas of southwest Minnesota, and more than 10 in the Marshall area in the month of June – could be affecting the pheasant hatch.
Nick Simonson, president of the Lyon County Pheasants Forever chapter, posed these questions to Nicole Davros, upland game project leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:
Q: In what condition was the pheasant population coming out of the winter months?
A: Our pheasant population made it through winter better than expected, and we had very few reports of winter losses. Although winter 2013-14 brought severe cold and some deep snow, it helped that the cold and snow didn’t come at the same time in the core of our pheasant range (west, southwest, and south-central portions of the state).
The central and east-central portions of our state had it worse as they experienced extreme cold and deep snow for a good portion of the winter. I’ve been hearing roosters crowing off of every corner of every Wildlife Management Area that I’ve visited this spring and summer.
Many of our wildlife managers have reported the same. I’ve taken this as a good indication that our pheasant population made it through winter just fine.
Q: What impact do you anticipate this rainy spring to have had on nesting attempts up to this point for pheasant hens in southwestern Minnesota?
A: We typically start getting reports of broods in late May, but that hasn’t happened this year and we’re instead only now beginning to get a few reports of young broods. Our brood observations to date could be indicative of a delayed hatch, or they could be indicative of reduced chick survival due to the recent rains. If enough hens have been delayed or forced into re-nesting, such that hatching has been delayed, this could end up being a positive as it would mean the peak hatch was offset from the onslaught of rain we had last week. Too much rain in a short period of time, especially when paired with colder temperatures, can lead to reduced chick survival, especially during the first few weeks of growth.
Q: Do you expect mostly eggs to have been destroyed by recent rains, or was there a period where some broods hatched, but were then taken out by spring weather events?
A: It is really hard for us to know the answer to that question. Again – we didn’t have reports of broods in May like usual so this could indicate that the hatch was delayed compared to a “typical” year.
Further, roosters are still crowing like crazy! And we’re not seeing that many hens, which serves as an indication that they are still incubating their clutches or are in deeper cover with their young broods. So I’m willing to speculate the hatch has been delayed based on weather conditions in early spring and based on what we are currently seeing now. Overall, I worry more about the rain affecting young chicks than eggs. Hens are very faithful to their nests. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that they only take one 20-30 minute break throughout the day during incubation, and they most certainly will stay on their eggs to keep them warm and dry during a rainstorm.
The one caveat to my concerns about rain affecting chicks more than eggs is that much of our remaining habitat is on low ground, so the major rainstorms we’ve had may be wiping out those nests on lower ground. And if there is one positive to all this rain, it’s that it hasn’t been paired with too cold of temperatures such that eggs or chicks would’ve gotten too cold.
Q: Last season’s pheasant hunting was saved by a very late hatch. What is the timeframe of the drop-dead latest hatch we can expect in southwestern Minnesota in a given year?
A: I wouldn’t put a date on a “drop-dead latest hatch.” Nothing would surprise me. Hens are known to be persistent re-nesters in that a hen will keep laying a fresh (albeit slightly smaller) clutch if her previous eggs are lost. However, if she successfully hatches a clutch and loses her chicks, she won’t re-nest.
In fact, last fall we had a report of birds that were generously estimated to be 3 weeks old at the start of the early duck season. Backdating with that information, those eggs would have been laid at the very end of July and the chicks would have hatched at the end of August or early September! However, late-hatched birds may have lower survival rates through winter. For example, they may not have enough time to put on fat reserves before an early-season snowstorm hits. They may also have less time to learn their environment than birds hatched earlier in the year, which may also give them a survival disadvantage once the snow hits.
Q: Without a solid hatch, what is your prognosis for the 2014 pheasant hunting season in southwestern Minnesota, based on the variables we have experienced in the past year, up to this point?
A: I’m not yet ready to speculate on how our population will look going into the fall. We’ll just have to wait and see what August brings! I’m less concerned about the timing of the hatch than I am about our habitat conditions. The simple fact is that we’ve lost a lot of CRP. We need to figure out a way to make conservation economically viable for private landowners.
Q: At what point should people be concerned that most hatches failed?
A: A late hatch is better than no hatch!
Even though we saw fewer birds in August during our roadside surveys last year, we speculated that hens were still on nests or under heavier cover with their young broods. And that turned out to be the case as many people were pleasantly surprised at how many birds were available come the pheasant season. Despite a rough opening weekend due to weather conditions, I received many reports that pheasant hunters who kept at it for the entire season were able to get their limits. They worked hard for the birds they got, but the birds were out there!
Overall, I think we need to be more concerned about the loss of habitat that has occurred over the past several years. In 2007, our pheasant harvest peaked at 655,000 roosters – the highest total harvest since 1963! Although this has been partially offset by gains in other cropland retirement acres (CREP, RIM, and WRP) and state- and federally-owned acquisitions, our pheasant harvest has been steadily declining nonetheless. And the worst CRP losses are yet to come. That’s the scary part.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Friday, April 25th, 2014
I spent a number of days this spring running my German shorthaired pointer, Trammell, through woods I know hold timberdoodle on their migration north. It was interesting to watch Trammell navigate the scent determining when to point and when to press. It got me thinking about the incredible ability of a dog’s nose, so I reached out to Bob West of Purina Dog Foods and a professional trainer with 50 years of experience to teach me more about bird dogs and scent.
The Scent Cloud
“Although the bird dog world has referenced it as a ‘scent cone’ for years, scent doesn’t follow a geometric shape. Scent more closely resembles a cloud,” explained West.
West explained that scent does indeed get bigger as it disperses downwind from the source, but the air current, temperature, humidity, and individual animal’s body heat are just some of the factors influencing the path of scent particles.
Using smoke bombs to simulate scent, West has observed the unpredictability of these scent clouds. “I’ve watched scent travel in a path similar to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. There are indeed holes in scent that one dog can shoot through and another just a few feet away will encounter.
Temperature & Moisture
The temperature of the environment, the body heat emanating from the bird, and the moisture of your dog’s nose are all critical variables as well. Cool, moist days are better for dogs to locate bird scent. Scent seems to hold tighter to the ground longer under cooler and moister conditions. Likewise, Bob West’s field trial research indicates before 10AM and after 4PM are the optimal times of day for dogs to locate birds, which generally coincides with the cooler portions of the day.
Moisture is also important in your dog’s nose. A dog’s ability to scent requires the sensory receptors in the pup’s nose being clean and moist. This is one of the reasons abundant water is necessary in the field.
West also believes dogs have the ability to sense, or perceive the body heat of a bird. “Birds are warm blooded animals and I believe our dogs have the ability to determine a bird’s location by using more than just the sense of smell. I believe bird dogs also factor in heat from other animals, as well as disturbed vegetation.”
The combination of a concentration of scent, disturbed vegetation and the bird’s body heat create “hot spots.” Oftentimes, these hot spots are the cause of a flash point or a flusher’s increased tail motion. It’s perfectly okay for your dog to focus in on these hot spots. The key is for the dog to process the clues mentally and decipher the bird’s subsequent moves forward.
A pup needs to be in good physical condition to accurately process scent, heat and disturbed vegetation. “It’s my job to talk about nutrition because of my role at Purina, but it is in fact critically important to your dog’s success in the field. A dog that’s appropriately nourished, well hydrated, and in good physical condition for the rigors of hunting is certainly more able to find birds as well as mentally process scent and clues,” added West.
I’ve long believed my shorthair had the ability to observe the difference in habitat between the grouse woods and the pheasant fields, then to know what bird she was scenting for during a particular hunt based upon the cover being hunted. What I wasn’t anticipating was that she’d be able to distinguish different species by scent in the same environment, but that’s exactly what happened on a recent hunt club visit when Trammell locked up on a rooster pheasant with a bobwhite quail in her mouth during a retrieve.
West confirmed the photo’s story, “There is no doubt dogs know the difference between species of birds. They also can differentiate between individuals of the same species. For instance, I’ve observed dogs point roosters with a rooster already in their mouth. Dogs definitely know the smells of different species and individual birds being hunted.”
West also went on to explain that dogs do not get desensitized to smell like humans. “If you walk into a room with fresh cut roses, you’ll notice them for the first few minutes but then the ability to distinguish that rose sent fades. That fade doesn’t happen with dogs. Their noses are exponentially better focused than our sense of smell.”
Hunting Dead Birds
West also reports that dogs can tell the difference between a dead bird, crippled bird and a living/healthy bird. So, when you drop a bird in the tall grass that isn’t immediately retrieved, just stop. The worst mistake a hunter can make is barging into that spot and start breaking down that vegetation. “Let your dog work the cover and scent. If that bird has been hit, imagine the scent from broken tissue or a ruptured digestive track. Your dog will find that scent if you don’t tamper with it. Don’t underestimate your dog’s ability to read disturbed vegetative cover too. They can piece together the puzzle.”
Up Wind, Down Wind, Cross Wind
“Hunt em all,” proclaims West. “You’ll never encounter a day where hunting up wind will always lead you back to your truck. Dogs are used to hunting through variable wind conditions and these different wind directions can make your dog a better bird finder in the long run.”
Just Add Luck
As we finished off our conversation, I asked West to break down into a percentage how much of a dog’s success was the result of its training/master and how much was the dog’s ability. Here’s how he broke it down for me.
Locating Birds (finding): 30% Human influenced / 70% Dog’s Natural Ability
Handling Birds (pointing, flushing, working a runner): 25% Human influenced / 50% Dog’s Natural Ability & 25% LUCK
“You simply can’t forget about luck,” Bob finished. “Sometimes all the training and dog power can’t equal a dose of good luck.”
If you’d like to learn more about bird dogs and their scenting abilities, Bob West will be a guest this Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on www.KFAN.com at 6:35 AM Central.
The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.
Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014
Not only are certain myths about pheasant and quail populations prevalent, belief in them takes the focus away from what really has an impact on sustainable bird numbers – the creation and management of upland habitat. Here’s a closer look at five widely-held beliefs about America’s most popular upland gamebirds.
Busted: During the last half century, there has been a colossal amount of money spent on supplemental stocking programs by state and local governments, sportsman’s groups and private individuals. Countless studies have shown that stocked pheasants, no matter when they are released, have great difficulty maintaining self-sustaining populations. Predators take the main toll, accounting for 90 percent of the deaths; at the same time, predators are conditioned to the idea that pheasants are an easy target.
Pen-raised birds do provide shooting opportunities and are a good way to introduce new hunters to hunting in a controlled situation; they’re also handy for training dogs. But the bottom line is stocking pen-raised pheasants and quail will not effectively increase populations. Only by addressing the root problem that is suppressing populations – the availability and quality of upland habitat – can a long-term positive impact be made on upland bird numbers.
Busted: Yes, coyotes and fox will eat pheasants and quail, and raccoons and skunks are likely culprits when it comes to raided nests. But predators don’t eat habitat, which is far and away the biggest reason why pheasant populations decline. High annual losses to predators should not be misunderstood to mean that predation is responsible for long-term upland population declines. Landscapes with good habitat often have high numbers of pheasant numbers, as well as high numbers of many potential predators.
The impact of predators is magnified and often pinpointed as the primary problem after habitat conditions deteriorate. Confine pheasants and quail to smaller and smaller parcels of habitat, and a predator’s job gets a whole lot easier. Thankfully, well-designed habitat projects can reduce predation by up to 80 percent. Through the addition and management of habitat, not only does there tend to be a decrease in the impact predators make on existing nests, but more habitat is likely to increase the number of nests and the overall gamebird population. And habitat for pheasants and quail comes at a fraction of the cost of other intensive predator reduction methods that are cost-prohibitive across a large area.
Busted: A single Florida study from the 1930s noted an instance of turkeys destroying quail eggs. No biological study since has documented turkeys damaging quail nests or feeding on chicks. Turkey researchers have not found a single quail chick or egg fragment while examining thousands of turkey stomachs. In addition, scientists monitoring quail chicks fitted with radio transmitters and watching quail nests via remote cameras have yet to catch a turkey in the act. Given that literally hundreds of studies of wild turkey food habits and predation on quail have been conducted over the past 80 years, the lack of evidence is remarkable. The conclusion is that turkeys have no direct role in the decline of quail.
Myth: Hunting is hurting pheasant numbers.
Busted: Extensive research has shown hunting has little-to-no effect on pheasant reproduction and populations. Hens and roosters are easily distinguished in wingshooting situations, and because hens are protected through game regulations, pheasants are actually managed much more conservatively than many other gamebirds. And because roosters are polygamous – that is, they will mate with multiple hens – hunting in effect is only removing a “surplus” of males not absolutely necessary for reproduction the following spring.
Most of a pheasant season’s harvest takes place during the opening weekend, sometimes as much as 50 percent. Additionally, the majority of pheasant hunters are most active during the first two weeks of the season. Considering these factors, liberal, lengthy, roosters-only seasons do not harm populations.
Busted: Two factors affect upland bird populations above all others: habitat and weather. And while we can’t control the weather, we can influence the amount and quality of upland habitat. Habitat is what supports strong and healthy pheasant and quail populations – one need only look at how pheasant populations rose in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s coinciding with increases in Conservation Reserve Program upland acreage, and their subsequent decreases as those acres diminished. Historically, a lot of money has been spent trying to stock pheasants and to battle predators. Had these dollars been invested in habitat restoration, pheasants, quail and other upland wildlife would’ve benefitted.
Thursday, April 17th, 2014
If pheasants are fortunate enough to enter the breeding season in good physical condition, they are not out completely out of harm’s way. As hay lands begin to green up in the spring, they provide a very attractive area for hens seeking a quality nest site. However, these same areas also provide farmers and ranchers with livestock forage. As a result, many hens are incidentally lost due to normal spring haying operations.
But, there is a solution for incidental hen mortality, and the answer is the use of a flushing bar. A flushing bar is a device that typically is mounted on the front of a tractor that precedes the implement being used for haying. A flushing bar creates a disturbance in advance of the implement to allow extra time for the nesting bird to flush to avoid injury or death.
Flushing bars are easy to install, are effective at forcing wildlife out of the path of the mower, and don’t get in the way of production. Research on flushing bars indicates a reduction in mortality of 60 percent in fields of alfalfa or other grass cover that is harvested for livestock forage.
Although the nest is normally destroyed, pheasants are resilient nesters and the majority will re-nest in nearby undisturbed cover. By using a flushing bar, not only will more hens survive the breeding and nesting seasons but many will also go on to successfully hatch a clutch leading to a potential increase in annual bird populations which will possibly lead to subsequent population growth in later years.
Pheasants Forever is piloting the use of flushing bars in South Dakota this year, and landowners are being offered cost-share incentives for the materials to build a custom device. South Dakotans interested in learning more about flushing bars are urged to contact their local Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist, or Mike Blaalid (605) 770-6859 or Mike Stephenson (605) 651-2716.
Find out more about these devices at the Flushing Bar Project.