Posts Tagged ‘pheasant nesting’

Pheasant Nesting Habitat Conditions

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Re-nesting efforts, which may be common this year because of cool, wet early nesting conditions, typically result in smaller clutches. Photo by Roger Hill

Re-nesting efforts, which may be common this year because of cool, wet early nesting conditions, typically result in smaller clutches. Photo by Roger Hill


Lasting effects from the drought have carried into this pheasant nesting season as Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) nesting cover was reduced by last summer’s haying and grazing emergency.  And winter wheat, the state’s most important cover for nesting pheasants, was slow to develop this spring due to the cool spring temperatures.

Though breeding populations remain higher than the long-term average in the state, the spring crowing count dropped 31 percent from 2012, according to Ed Gorman, Small Game Manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Gorman notes the nesting period appeared to be later than normal this spring, so only time will tell if pheasants will produce prolifically given slightly improved conditions as compared to 2012. Colorado’s proposed 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season is Saturday, November 9 through Friday, January 31, 2014.


Iowa pheasants are struggling to recover from a modern low population point, but on top of continued grassland habitat loss, the weather isn’t doing them any favors.

“This year, unfortunately, we are predicting a decline in bird numbers,” says Todd Bogenschutz, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Upland Wildlife Biologist. “Our pheasant population typically shows increases following mild winters and dry, warm springs.  This past winter, while starting mild, ended with a vengeance.”

Many bird hunting enthusiasts were hoping a warm, dry spring would offset the snowy winter. Unfortunately this year’s nesting season (April/May) has been record-setting for cold temperatures and rainfall.  Statewide, nesting season rainfall was 15.4 inches, and temperatures were 4.1 degrees cooler than normal. Iowa’s pheasant population has never seen a spring this wet since they were established in the state back in the 1920s.

Based on this weather data, Bogenschutz predicts Iowa’s statewide pheasant population will be lower than in 2012.  However, Bogenschutz says the DNR’s August roadside survey is the best gauge of what populations are, and that report is available in mid-September.

Progress is being made on habitat for pheasants, says Bogenschutz.  Iowa was awarded a new continuous Conservation Reserve Program practice targeted specifically for pheasants.  The practice is called Iowa Pheasant Recovery (CP38) and 50,000 acres are available for enrollment statewide.


While other parts of pheasant country are recovering from the drought of 2012, Kansas isn’t one of them. In fact, as of mid-summer, all of western Kanas remained in an extreme-to-exceptional drought.

The drought is taking its toll on the pheasant population, as indicated by hunter harvest numbers. Last year, pheasant hunters bagged about 230,000 birds in the state, the lowest harvest in nearly six decades. And this year’s spring breeding population is extremely low. Spring crow counts were down 37 percent region-wide, according to Jim Pitman, Small Game Coordinator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

“This is horrific compared to where we were just a few years ago,” says Pitman. “When you’re as low as we are this year, it means you’re pretty much going to have very low populations, even with good production. We just don’t have many birds out there.” Spring crow counts were down 40 percent in northwest Kansas, which still has the best bird numbers in the state. And losing nearly 185,000 CRP acres statewide in the last year was the last thing Kansas pheasants needed.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks’ annual brood count will be out in September and will provide a better idea of what the fall pheasant population will look like. The state’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, November 9 through Friday, January 31, 2014.


Late-season snowstorms, a delayed green-up, and wet conditions during spring and summer definitely impacted the pheasant nesting season in Minnesota. “Many hens likely delayed nest initiation due to weather and habitat conditions or had to re-nest due to failed first attempts,” says Nicole Davros, Upland Game Project Leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “The peak hatch normally occurs during June, but recent heavy rains may have decreased survival rates of chicks that did hatch during this timeframe.”

Quality pheasant habitat in Minnesota is at a premium right now, as the state has lost 164,000 CRP acres in the last year. “Conversion of native prairies and field tiling is occurring at a rapid pace across much of Minnesota’s farmland region, especially across the northern and western parts of Minnesota’s pheasant range,” Davros says. And many roadsides have already been mowed this nesting season for hay, further reducing nesting success.

On a bright note, Minnesota has expanded its Walk-in Access (WIA) program to 35 counties in 2013. “The WIA program targets parcels greater than 40 acres in size that are already enrolled in conservation programs such as CRP or Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM), although other high-quality habitats are also considered,” Davros said, adding that in 2013, a $3 WIA validation will be required when using WIAs. The validation will aid in determining WIA participation levels, which will help guide future funding and expansion efforts of the program. Results from Minnesota’s August Roadside Survey are typically available by Labor Day weekend. Minnesota’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, October 12, 2013 through Wednesday, January 1, 2014.


In northeast Montana, spring crow counts were 15 percent above the 10-year average, these numbers certainly boosted by moderate winter conditions that resulted in low overwinter mortality. Spring nesting cover was dramatically improved by prolonged rains in late May and early June, so while early nesting was considered fair to good, conditions for re-nesting and late nests have been fantastic. In southeast Montana, spring crow counts are down 40 percent from last year’s all-time high counts. Carryover from last year’s drought resulted in hardly any residual cover for nesting birds, but early summer moisture events dramatically improved habitat conditions. Poor early nesting conditions combined with exceptional late nesting conditions create an average overall nesting outlook for southeast Montana. Montana’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, October 12 through Wednesday, January 1, 2014.


Coming off an overall mild winter and a spring that helped to replenish some nesting cover following last year’s drought, Jeff Lusk, Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, remains optimistic that nesting production will be much improved this year.

That is, of course, where quality habitat remains, as more than 108,000 CRP acres in Nebraska were not re-enrolled in the program in the last year. And Lusk reports there were some regional severe winter weather events that could have adversely affected populations, particularly in areas hit hardest by the drought last summer.

Last year, 35,000 pheasant hunters in Nebraska harvested 120,785 roosters. Nebraska conducts a Rural Mail Carrier Survey in July to give hunters the best idea of what they can expect come open season. Results from that survey are available in August. Nebraska’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, October 26 2013 through Friday, January, 31 2014.

North Dakota

Though North Dakota’s s spring crow count was down 11 percent statewide and 12 percent within its core pheasant range, Stan Kohn, Upland Game Management Supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, says late spring/early summer habitat conditions were excellent, leading him to predict a fair nesting outlook in the northern half of the state and a fair-to-good nesting outlook in the southern half.

Kohn says cool and wet weather in April and May likely caused some nest failures, but that June has been warm and dry so re-nesting efforts should have a chance. And though the early spring rains wreaked havoc on early nests, the moisture improved habitat conditions immensely.

Keeping upland habitat on the landscape in North Dakota remains the greatest challenge, evidenced by the nearly 630,000 CRP acres that weren’t re-enrolled in the program last year. Small but notable habitat success stories are the continuous CRP practices in North Dakota, the State Acres For wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program and the Duck Nesting Habitat practice, as Kohn says interest in them from producers has been strong.

North Dakota’s walk-in hunting access program will drop by about 50,000 acres this autumn. Results from the state’s August Roadside Survey will be available in mid-September, and the pheasant hunting season opens on Saturday, October 12, 2013 (full season dates not yet determined).

South Dakota

The most telling statistic to come out of South Dakota this year isn’t weather related. “For the first time in two decades, less than 1 million acres of CRP grasslands will be available to nesting pheasants,” says Travis Runia, “The premier nesting cover has helped sustain high pheasant numbers since CRP was established in 1985.”

South Dakota has become ground-zero for accelerated upland habitat loss and Runia points out the conversion of non-CRP grassland (including native grassland) to cropland has exceeded even the CRP conversion rate, further reducing available nesting cover.

On top of this habitat double whammy, South Dakota experienced a very cold and wet spring – including April snowstorms – which is not favorable for pheasant production. “Birds that had initiated nests in late April probably abandoned their nest, and re-nested when spring-like weather finally arrived in May,” Runia said, “The delay in nesting chronology can limit the time pheasants have to re-nest if their first nests are unsuccessful.” Wet conditions and widespread severe thunderstorms extended into June, the period of peak pheasant hatch.

Runia says the rains, though untimely for nesting birds, were needed. “Nesting conditions would have been terrible in 2013 without some moisture to spur growth of cool-season grasses.” And though conditions have not been ideal, reports of pheasant broods at the end of June were coming in. “Pheasants are extremely resilient and are capable of modest reproductive success under poor conditions,” Runia says.

South Dakota’s popular Walk in Area program will again have 231,000 acres within the state’s primary pheasant belt, and the eastern James River CREP walk-in program will add at least 9,000 new acres to hunter accessibility this year. Results from the South Dakota’s annual brood survey are available around Labor Day, and the state’s 2013-2014 pheasant hunting season runs Saturday, October 19, 2013 through Sunday, January 5, 2014.

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Minnesota Pheasants: Late Spring Increases Importance of Delayed Roadside Mowing

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

While the third week in June is typically the peak of the pheasant hatch, that may not be the case in Minnesota this year due to a cool, wet spring. As pheasant nesting has been impacted, the delayed mowing of roadsides will be even more important in this wacky weather year.

“The late spring will likely impact pheasant nesting in one of two ways,” said Nicole Davros, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources research scientist and pheasant specialist. “Some hens may have delayed nest initiation due to cooler temps and snow cover at the start of the nesting season. Other hens that did start nesting may have abandoned their first attempt due to the weather.”

This hen pheasant and nest were destroyed by early roadside mowing. Photo courtesy the Minnesota DNR

This hen pheasant and nest were destroyed by early roadside mowing. Photo courtesy the Minnesota DNR

Davros says this year there will probably be a lot of pheasants still nesting in July, noting it takes six weeks for a hen pheasant to lay eggs and have them hatch. Chicks need to be two to three weeks old to escape mowers or other farm equipment. By delaying roadside disturbances until August 1, most nests can hatch successfully.

If a nest succumbs to a mower before the eggs hatch, and provided the hen escapes, she will re-nest, doing so, in fact, until successfully hatching a clutch. If chicks perish in a ditch cutting, the hen will not re-nest, as pheasant hens will only hatch one brood per year.

Roadsides provide more than 500,000 acres of nesting area in the pheasant range of southern and western Minnesota.  In some areas, up to 40 percent of pheasants in the fall population can be produced in roadsides. Unfortunately, thousands of pheasant nests and nest sites are destroyed annually in Minnesota and nationwide because of ditch mowing, haying, spraying and ATV operation during late spring and summer. That’s why Pheasants Forever encourages delaying all these roadside disturbances all across pheasant country until after August 1.

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.organd follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Pheasant Biology: April and Frozen Nests

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

While we welcome an early spring, it is of little benefit overall to the hen pheasant’s nesting cycle. Egg laying and nesting is tied more closely to day length than warm temperatures. Nest initiation typically starts in early May, followed by incubation in late May.


Pheasants will make up to four attempts at a successful nesting effort, though the number of eggs laid decreases with each subsequent effort. PF File Photo

And while an early spring may not expedite the entire nesting process, a late winter can be hazardous to it. The first part of April can be very unpredictable regarding weather in the Upper Midwest, with early spring snow storms being very detrimental to breeding pheasants. For the early hen that does start a mid-April nest, one freezing night is all it takes to destroy her effort.

As the early nesting hen gears up to 1.3 eggs per day, cold temperatures and shortages of food can delay production. Now remember the hen does not incubate until the nest has 12 eggs. So if she’s laid 10 eggs in the nest and the temperature dips below 29 degrees, those eggs have frozen. The hen will lay her remaining three or four eggs and incubate the nest, but only those three or four will hatch. Small as it is, this is her family, and she is done nesting for the year – she will not nest again.

If the entire nest effort fails, hen pheasants will re-nest – until they are successful, or up to four times – but the number of eggs decreases with each subsequent attempt.

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

Pinpointing Pheasant Needs: Dense Nesting Cover

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Pheasants prefer "Dense Nesting Cover" like that found in this North Dakota grassland. Photo by Jesse Beckers / Pheasants Forever

Here at the The Big Spur Blog I talk frequently of nesting cover and its importance to wildlife populations. This is especially important for pheasant reproduction success, even more than winter cover. Pheasants are tough birds and can survive very harsh winters with adequate cover, but nesting conditions are what ensure there will be pheasants around to survive when winter rolls in.

Hens will nest anywhere they can in the spring, but in order to make nesting efforts as successful as possible, we need to know what pheasants require. Studies have shown that 20 acre blocks of cover are ideal for nesting hens, and many grass compositions provide moderate to good cover. But the really good stuff consists of plant species that both provide vertical cover and provide a food source for the nesting hen and chicks.

We refer to this as “Dense Nesting Cover” (DNC). DNC is a great component for new CRP contracts, and can also be established with relative ease. DNC can consist of native or introduced grasses and forbs. Both native and introduced mixes consist of four species to six species.

An example of a native mixture includes green needlegrass, Canada wildrye, western wheatgrass, Illinois bundleflower and purple prairie clover.

An introduced DNC mix includes tall wheatgrass, intermediate wheatgrass, alfalfa and sweet clover.

Native and introduced mixes are readily available at seed dealerships around the country. Generally speaking, introduced mixes are cheaper and easier to establish on your property. Both mixes have a grass component for cover, and a forb component to attract insects for a pheasant food source. Insects comprise more than 90 percent of chicks’ diet up to six weeks of age.

When planning your next pheasant habitat project, think DNC. The birds will thank you!

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

This Looks Like a Good Spot to Nest

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

It is the time of year when hen pheasants are sitting on their nests in the northern states, or trying to after a cold and wet spring.

This is also the time when hens are most vulnerable to the elements and predators. This is why Pheasants Forever puts such a big emphasis on the importance of quality nesting habitat that consists of contiguous acres of grasslands. But when those acres are not available, that hen will find anything she can to lay her eggs down for the year. In some cases, these areas can seem rather odd and leave you scratching your head as to why the spot was chosen.

I travel a lot and study pheasants on a regular basis. This is why I have to ask myself, “Why would a pheasant nest in a flower pot, or in someone’s front yard?” These are two areas that we don’t speak of too much as habitat, but in the above cases these were the only areas available for that bird to lay her eggs. These are also areas where the chances of survival will be very low.

Pheasants prefer to nest in grasslands, and as such prefer blocks of cover to protect her and her young. They will be found in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) areas, pastures, grasslands, and even in road ditches. This is why many states encourage no mowing until mid-summer when the eggs are hatched and the chicks can get away. Still, mowing ditches is a common practice that destroys thousands of eggs and pheasants per year.

How important is CRP to pheasant and wildlife populations? This graph from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department shows how pheasants responded to two different time periods: the first being Soil Bank Program years (of the late 1950s and early 1960s) and the second being our present CRP years (1985 to present):

North Dakota pheasant harvest information provided by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

The importance of grasslands in America is why Pheasants Forever advocates for them on state and national levels. Support for these efforts can be made by supporting your local Pheasants Forever chapter, and for more information on grassland programs and habitat advice, contact a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist near you!

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