Posts Tagged ‘Pheasants’
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 will not effectively increase wild pheasant 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 pheasant 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, March 20th, 2014
Food and cover plots fit into almost any wildlife habitat management plan and, let’s face it, they are also really fun to hunt. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have expanded the line of Signature Series Food and Cover Mixes to 15 options with the 2014 additions of Cane Madness and White Lightning.
“There is a strong relationship between the location of food, thermal cover and winter survival for upland birds – so food plots are a critical factor in effective wildlife management,” says Jim Wooley, Director of Field Operations for Quail Forever, “Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Signature Series Food and Cover Mixes target a host of upland wildlife and big game species, and work all over pheasant and quail country.”
Cane Madness - Cane Madness is a phenomenal mix of high-yielding tall cane sorghums. It creates an abundant food source and cover for birds while also providing “screen habitat” for deer. This blend of the heaviest-seeded forage sorghums is designed to provide what matters most for game birds – cover that stands up to winter, and abundant high energy food. This mix enhances the character of existing winter cover when planted next to it, improves survival rates, and insures peak breeding conditions for birds. It can also provide stand-alone winter habitat and food if established in very large plots. A 25 lb. bag of Cane Madness plants 4-5 acres that can be established with standard planters, grain drills or broadcast seeders. Plant each spring at 5-6 lbs/acre when soil temperatures warm to 60 degrees. Matures in 95-110 days.
White Lightning - This is a prescription blend of white and cream-seeded sorghum proven to attract both deer and upland birds. Simply put, this special mixture of mild-flavored, light-seeded sorghums will provide great food and safe foraging for game birds, and keep local deer happy as well. Plant this mix next to your existing winter cover to enhance its character and to improve survival by minimizing bird movement. A 25 lb. bag of White Lightning plants 4-5 acres. Establish with standard planters, grain drills or broadcast seeders. Plant each spring at 5-6 lbs/acre when soil temperatures warm to 60 degrees. Matures in 95-110 days.?
Sunday, November 3rd, 2013
Minnesota’s newest critical habitat license plate features a ring-necked pheasant in grassland and is now available for purchase. Revenue generated from the sales of the new pheasant plates will be used to conserve upland habitat in the state.
The DNR chose the pheasant image from a previous pheasant-stamp winner submitted by Minnesota artist Joe Hautman who said he is honored to have the plate feature his artwork. The plate was graphically designed by DNR artist Collin Grant. Minnesota motorists can purchase the new, autumn-colored plate at any licensed registrar or department of motor vehicle office. It’s not necessary to wait until tabs are expired on the vehicle to purchase new plates and the tabs for the vehicle will expire at the same time.
“We are giving motorists more ways to show their conservation colors and individual identity,” said Tom Landwehr, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner. The first pheasant plates at the Pheasants Forever national office were purchased on Friday, November 1 by Bob St.Pierre, Vice President of Marketing for Pheasants Forever.
— Bob St.Pierre (@BobStPierre) November 1, 2013
Motorists who purchase a critical habitat plate make a minimum annual contribution of $30 to the Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) Program. Every dollar generated through the sale of the license plate is matched with private donations of cash or land. The plates have generated more than $25 million toward the purchase of 7,700 acres of critical habitat and have helped fund nongame research and surveys, habitat enhancement and educational programs. Plate revenue will be used, in part, to support pheasant and other grassland species through Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan habitat acquisition, a plan which Pheasants Forever helped develop.
More information about how Minnesota’s critical habitat license plate sales fund conservation efforts is available online.
Monday, October 14th, 2013
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr announced this evening that a new ring-necked pheasant critical habitat license plate will be available later this fall. The announcement was made during the banquet at the third annual Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener, hosted by the city of Madelia.
Landwehr thanked those who have already purchased loon, deer, showy lady slipper, chickadee or fishing license plates. He said he looks forward to seeing a fresh hatch of pheasant plates on the road as well.
“Motorists who have purchased habitat plates have helped wildlife in every corner of the state,” Landwehr said. “They have funded wildlife management area acquisitions, trout stream easements and helped support loons, eagles, rare plants and many other species. The new pheasant plate will help us preserve some of our rapidly disappearing grasslands – which are critical to the future of pheasants,” he said.
The new pheasant plate is an adaptation of the 2007 Minnesota pheasant stamp by renowned Minnesota artist Joe Hautman. Landwehr said license plate revenue will be used, in part, to support pheasant and other grassland species through Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan habitat acquisition, a plan which Pheasants Forever helped develop.
The printing of the new plates will begin this fall. The DNR will announce when they are available at local deputy registrar offices, online, and other vehicle license outlets. Limited numbers should be available in about a month. The critical habitat plate requires a contribution of at least $30 per year more than a standard plate. There is also a one-time fee of $10 the first year for plate transfer costs. Contributions go to the DNR and are matched equally with private donations of land or cash to buy and manage important natural habitats which are preserved as public lands and are open to compatible public use, like hunting, hiking and wildlife watching.
Critical habitat license plates can be purchased anytime or when renewing a car or truck license through the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. More information can be found at www.dnr.state.mn.us/features/plates/index.html.
Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
If the world were split between early risers and night owls, I’d be in the group hooting at the moon. However, mom once predicted my alarm clock settings would change about the same time I developed a taste for Brussels sprouts. This spring, I planted 28 Brussels sprouts in my garden, taking up almost 50 percent of the available space. Yeah, you guessed it; my alarm clock setting has been slowly dialing back as straggling gray whiskers show up in my beard.
The obvious benefit to my new embrace of sunrises is better bird hunting. I know this is a strange revelation coming from a guy who frequently touts the “Golden Hour” as the best time of the day to pheasant hunt. However let me offer two big reasons in support of my sunrise theory:
1) Catch Roosters Leaving the Roost. While states have opening starts to the hunting day as varied as one half hour before sunrise all the way till noon on opening weekend in South Dakota, seasoned hunters will tell you to be in the field as early as legal shooting time allows. In states like North Dakota and Kansas, it’s legal to begin your day’s pheasant hunt a half hour before sunrise. This caffeinated starting time allows the early rising hunter to catch birds still in grassy roosting areas before disappearing into the standing fields of corn, sunflowers, or other crops. This advantage wanes as crops are harvested and the season marches toward winter, but the days get shorter too.
2) Dewy Scenting Conditions. Moist conditions hold scent much better than dry conditions. Just ask a Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, or Nebraska hunter how tough it was to find birds last fall when they hadn’t received rain in months. A big part of the equation is the dog’s ability to locate scent. A dewy morning presents excellent conditions for your bird dog to tip the scales in your advantage. As the dew evaporates, so does that birdy scent and your hopes of a daily bag limit.
So what do you think, do you prefer the first hour of the day to catch those early rising “alarm clock” roosters, or are you a fan of the last glimmer of the day’s “golden hour?”
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.
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.”
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.
Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
While the calendar turned over to spring in March, winter hung on much longer in the Upper Midwest, where parts of Minnesota reported the snowiest April on record, two feet of snow collected in Bismarck, North Dakota and South Dakota saw its share of April snowstorms. Also an important factor is a late winter’s slowing down of “greening” nesting grasses to make the quality cover that is available attractive to hen pheasants.
Cold April temperatures can be deadly for pheasant nests already on the ground, but with the way winter lingered, it’s not likely many hens got to that point this month. “I haven’t noticed any pheasants starting to prepare nests yet,” said Troy Dale, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist in west-central Minnesota’s Lac qui Parle County, “With the late snow melt this year the hens are going to fall a little behind on nest preparation.”
Across the border in South Dakota, Matt Morlock, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist II from Volga, says the conditions did put some stress on pheasants, but he’s thankful it was just snow as opposed to ice. “Ice is the real killer on birds, so that was a huge break. The other helpful thing is that it hasn’t been overly cold with these systems, and the fields have maintained some open spots for scratching and feeding. We haven’t been seeing any die-offs or other signs of severe stress. I do think that we are going to see the hens in a little poorer condition this spring as opposed to previous nesting seasons which could have an impact on the number of eggs and chicks produced.”
To the north, moderate temperatures and little precipitation was the story of North Dakota’s winter for the first half. “Then various blizzards hit every region of North Dakota from January to April,” says Matt Olsen, a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist from Forman in the southeast part of the state, “The most recent snowstorms in mid-April hit the south-central and far southeast corner the hardest.” Olsen expects there to be reduced nesting cover, a combination of the extended winter and carryover effects from the drought. “Last fall, nearly all Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in North Dakota were opened up for emergency haying and grazing. Consequently, this vegetation has not had the time to recover to be available for quality nesting habitat,” Olsen said, “And with the spring melt being this late, some areas that could have served as nesting habitat will be flooded and will not provide any nesting cover in the near future. “
While the weather hasn’t been ideal for pheasants, compounding the issue is continued upland habitat loss in these states. “North Dakota has also seen a reduction in the amount of land enrolled in CRP which will further reduce the amount of nesting cover on the landscape,” Olsen says.
Adds Morlock, “Drain tiling and grassland conversion will have a far bigger and more widespread impact on our pheasants than the snow ever could.”
Friday, April 26th, 2013
It’s taken a long time this year, but winter’s icy stranglehold across the upper Midwest has finally begun to relent . . . we hope! Meteorologists are forecasting a balmy April weekend ahead which should liquefy the last remaining piles of snow throughout most of the pheasant range. Finally, we’re at spring’s doorstep, which means it’s a perfect time to start thinking about habitat management.
One of the most important tools for improving habitat is prescribed fire. Controlled burning in early spring accomplishes three main objectives in habitat management. First, burning limits the growth of woody vegetation helping maintain the prairie as a distinct ecosystem. Second, the fire burns off the duff layer of built up plant matter that hasn’t fully decayed over the last few years. Third, prescribed burning releases the nutrients bound in the plant litter stimulating vigorous new growth, which is more attractive nesting covers for ground nesting birds.
Burns can be very dangerous if not done properly. Grasses produce extremely hot fires and can spread rapidly. Pheasants Forever’s habitat specialists and chapter volunteer burn crews are trained in completing safe and effective prescribed burns in many of the pheasant range states.
Prescribed fire can be an especially important tool in the mid-contract management of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands, as well as on state and federally managed wildlife lands.
What’s the biggest limitation to utilizing prescribed fire as a habitat management tool?
The answer: the general public does not understand the value of prescribed fire to the prairie ecosystem. Fire is widely viewed as bad.
Stop and think about it for a moment; what maintained prairies as unique ecosystems prior to urbanization? The answer: Massive grass fires started by lightning.
A well-planned and safely executed prescribed burn is an incredibly successful way to manage habitat for pheasants and quail.
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.
Tuesday, March 5th, 2013
Each year as snowfall totals across pheasant country increase, many hunters and conservationists find cause for concern regarding ring-necked pheasants’ ability to survive, and ask “Should we be feeding pheasants?”
Habitat is the Effective Long-Term Solution
The key to carrying pheasants through the winter is quality thermal habitat. While this may provide no consolation this winter, consider that resources spent on establishing high quality winter cover will yield far greater results and the best winter survival rates down the road. The lesson to be learned from a tough winter is the need to plant more high quality thermal cover this spring. Start your habitat planning now!
More than anything, feeding is reactionary to the winter, when the best thing we can do is be proactive about improving quality habitat. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned people who provide corn and other grains as food sources actually harm pheasants more than they help them.
Why NOT to Feed Pheasants
The biggest reason to shy away from feeding pheasants is that feeders attract predators and expose pheasants to death by predation. Feeders give predators a focus point similar to a bait pile. In fact, it is rare for a pheasant to starve, but death by freezing can be common. Poorly-placed feeders may draw the pheasants out and away from their protective winter cover and cause birds to congregate and expend energy competing for food. Instead of saving birds, this actually adds to freezing deaths.
Food and Cover Plots a Better Option
Rather than simply dumping out grain for pheasants, plan in advance of nasty winters with a food and cover plot(s). When designed and placed correctly, food and cover plots reduce bird mortality and help bring hens through the winter in peak condition for breeding – location is critical, as plots next to dense native grasses, in combination with trees and shrubs, are much better than those planted out in the open. See Pheasants Forever’s Signature Series Food and Cover Mixes for more information.
Thursday, February 7th, 2013
The major cause of pheasant winter mortality is not starvation, it is freezing. The pheasant’s physiological processes can produce only so much heat, and as temperatures drop, more and more body heat is lost to the surrounding air. At some temperature, called the “lower critical temperature,” more heat is lost than can be produced, and the bird freezes.
Pheasants will spend their winter nights roosting in grass cover or wetlands. The dead grass of roosting cover makes a nice insulated bed which protects birds from the wind. While the temperature near their beds may be 0°F, the 20 mph wind three feet above their heads produces a -39°F wind chill. To survive the 0°F in the grass, the pheasants must use 22.42 kcal of energy each hour. Without the grass cover, the pheasant needs 28.01 kcal each hour to survive the -39°F wind chill – meaning inadequate cover causes them to burn 25 percent more per hour. It’s difficult enough trying to survive a 16-hour night, then having to expend 25 percent more energy to get through it.
The use of shelterbelts and woody draws as loafing cover provides even greater energy benefits than roosting cover. Not only does a well-designed tree belt negate the energy costs of wind chill, it produces a warmer temperature inside the belt than outside the belt. With the still air inside a belt and the solar collection ability of dark-colored conifers, the temperature within a belt can be 5°F warmer than the surrounding air. In such a belt, pheasants can survive with 3 percent less energy.
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.