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The Where’s of Winter Cover

Map from The Essential Habitat Guide, available through Pheasants Forever.

The old joke is the first thing that stops the prairie wind in the Dakotas is Minnesota. Don’t believe it? Just ask a pheasant.

As a follow up to the recent and excellent Pheasant Blog post Winter Cover Basics by Jesse Beckers, Pheasants Forever Regional Wildlife Biologist in North Dakota, it’s interesting to look at where thermal, commonly called “winter” cover, is most needed by pheasants.

As illustrated in the figure, save for South Dakota, half of North Dakota, eastern Montana and northeast Wyoming, a lack of quality nesting cover is the “limiting factor” for pheasant populations; in the aforementioned states, not enough quality winter cover is what tends to prohibit pheasant populations. Simply put, blizzards in those states can bury pheasants alive, literally, before they have a chance to reproduce. In the rest of the country, pheasants could always use more places (grasslands) to reproduce.

This doesn’t mean nesting cover isn’t a consideration for the Dakotas, or that winter cover isn’t important outside the dark green shaded area. Quite the contrary, in fact, as both are important pheasant habitat components anywhere in pheasant country; it’s the overall need in each selected region that’s distinct.

It’s also interesting to note that two of the top pheasant producing states – South Dakota and North Dakota – are places where winter cover deficiencies can be detrimental to pheasants.  That’s a testament to the ring-necked pheasant’s hardiness and powers of proliferation. Get enough birds through those brutal winters, give them ample amounts of grass to nest in and they’ll multiply. And that’s no joke.

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Public Relations Specialist

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