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Pheasant report offers cause for optimism

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outdoors Grand Forks, 58203
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

Spring nesting conditions generally were favorable for pheasants across most of the species’ U.S. range, conservation group Pheasants Forever says in a new report.

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In the report, Pheasants Forever said while nesting conditions were “favorable,” summer brood surveys, now underway, will provide the best indicator of what hunters can expect this fall. So far, Pheasants Forever says, areas with available habitat look promising.

Here’s a look at Pheasants Forever’s nesting outlook for North Dakota and surrounding states:

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 for Game and Fish in Bismarck, 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 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 provided for good habitat conditions heading into the prime nesting period.

“Spring weather (was) pretty good for nesting/early brood rearing,” Kohn said, “The only possible impact might be heavy rains (2 inches to 6 inches) 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 rains that came when chicks were hatching to 10 days old.”

Overall, Kohn said he expects nesting success to be average to above average.

Minnesota

For the second consecutive year, Minnesota experienced late-season snowstorms and a wet spring. That was followed by extremely heavy rainfall in June, especially during the first three weeks of the month when the peak pheasant hatch typically occurs, said Nicole Davros, upland game project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

This past June was Minnesota’s wettest June (and wettest month) of modern record, with most areas of the state’s pheasant range receiving more than 8 inches of rainfall — and some receiving 10 inches to 14 inches.

 “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,” Davros said. “The near-normal temperatures may have helped reduce the number of young chicks lost due to weather exposure.”

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,” Davros said. “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.

South Dakota

 Weather conditions were favorable for pheasant production over most of the primary pheasant range from late April through June, reports Travis Runia, lead pheasant biologist for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.

“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 said.

The major exception was southeast South Dakota, which encountered record flooding. “Areas around Sioux Falls shattered all-time June rainfall records, which almost certainly resulted in destroyed nests and reduced survival of pheasant chicks,” Runia said.

Compiled by Anthony Hauk, Pheasants Forever online editor, ahauk@pheasantsforever.org.

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