Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Pheasant numbers, habitat on decline

Lansing – No matter what style of shotgun you tote, if you’re a
Michigan pheasant hunter you face double-barrel bad news, according
to DNR Upland Game Bird Specialist Al Stewart.

“In general,” Stewart told Michigan Outdoor News in a phone
interview, “it appears that pheasant numbers are down this fall
compared to the last several years.

“For one thing, it’s due to pheasant habitat being removed off
the land due to forecasted higher prices for corn,” he said,
referring to the projected demand for corn for ethanol production
and other uses that has led farmers to turn idle land – at least
land idle in terms of commercial crops – into actively farmed
lands.

Some of those lands were enrolled in the Conservation Reserve
Program or other conservation efforts, typically multi-year
contracts, with penalties charged if they’re broken early.

Seeing prospects for higher corn prices, some farmers are opting
to not re-enroll when their contracts expire.

Others, Stewart said, “have pulled their lands (from the
programs) and paid the penalty.”

The result, from a pheasant’s point of view, is the same:
“People have taken grasslands or idle lands that in the past would
be good (pheasant) nesting or winter cover, and they’re growing
corn on them.”

Loss of habitat to development continues, too, although the
mortgage crisis has slowed the building. There’s still new building
– houses, subdivisions, malls, even in a “down” economy.

That’s one barrel of the bad news.

Then, too, Stewart said, “last year and this present year,
pheasant production has been not all that great. We don’t have all
the numbers done, but I can say that production’s not all that
great.

“We don’t know all the reasons,” he said. “Cold, wet spring?
Dry, hot summer? Cold, snowy winter? We don’t know exactly what it
is, but our mail carrier brood surveys tell us there are fewer
(adult) birds and fewer chicks than last year, and quite a bit
fewer than five and 10 years ago.

“We can’t say it’s a cycle like hunters know with ruffed grouse,
but at first blush, there’s just not as many.”

Hunting prospects?

“Where there’s good, prime pheasant habitat, there will still be
birds. The bottom line for pheasants this fall is, you’ll have to
hunt harder than in the last three years for the same number of
roosters.”

Hunters need not feel bad about harvesting roosters during these
down times. For one thing, one rooster can service many hens. And
repeated studies have found that hunters have little effect on
upland birds.

“Upland game birds are designed to respond quickly to changes,”
Stewart said. “Hunting mortality studies suggest that hunting is
not a limiting factor (on pheasants and similar birds.) It usually
comes back to habitat.

“Whether hunted or not, a pheasant is going to live (only) 18
months.”

Biologists surely haven’t given up on the colorful game birds:
Stewart was leaving the day after his interview for travels that
would include a meeting of Midwest pheasant biologists to discuss
creating a national action plan focused on pheasants.

In 2006, about 56,000 Michigan hunters sought pheasants, and
another 27,000 pursued quail. They averaged about four or five days
of hunting, and bagged about 100,000 pheasants and 2,000 quail.

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