Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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MN: Marginal pheasant forecast develops

Watson, Minn. – There’s been too much rain this spring and early
summer for Dave Trauba to recall when it all came.

He just knows that, for the most part, it was wet and cool in early
June, which is when the bulk of the ring-necked pheasant nesting in
the state occurs. He’s not optimistic about the chances of the
birds pulling off a good hatch.

“We really won’t know until the August roadside surveys, but right
now things aren’t looking good,” said Trauba, manager at the Lac
qui Parle Wildlife Management Area. “This has been a real rainy
spring and early summer. Temperatures haven’t been all that warm.
Right now, I’m pessimistic for a great hatch.”

Indeed, cool and wet springs generally mean that production is
poorer than normal, said Kurt Haroldson, a DNR researcher in
Madelia.

“We can say this is a cool and wet spring, but we don’t know
details on how cool it has to be to be a problem, or how wet it has
to be,” he said. “But it would be a stretch of the imagination to
call this a warm, dry spring.”

Based on what Haroldson has seen so far, he expects pheasant
numbers this fall to be lower than last year, when – at 63
pheasants per 100 miles – they were on par with 2009, but 22
percent below the 10-year average.

His expectation is based on last winter, when there was snow on the
ground from December through March, and this spring.

“We would expect with all the snow and just the severe weather in
general that we would have fewer hens in the spring, and then with
the cool, wet spring we would expect fewer hens produced by those
surviving chicks.”

Young chicks cannot generate their own body heat, so when the
temperature is low they spend more time warming up under the hen
and less time eating. Cool weather also can affect the insect that
chicks eat.

“They just grow slower because they are not eating as much,”
Haroldson said.

Hunters may expect to see fewer roosters this fall, too.

In the Windom area, Randy Markl hasn’t seen the number of roosters
he typically does at this time of year.

And while he doesn’t know for sure, he suspects downpour rains that
left standing water for days afterward have flooded some pheasant
nests. Other chicks probably have perished as a result of the cool
weather.

“Typically with this much rain and the cool days we have had, one
would expect an impact,” said Markl, DNR area wildlife manager in
Windom.

Trauba doesn’t believe this year’s nesting effort will be a bust
because some pheasants, no doubt, are trying to nest again. But he
is “more pessimistic than optimistic,” he said.

Said Haroldson: “There is still nesting going on. There are always
nests being disturbed or destroyed, and then the hen goes off and
rests up and builds some energy reserves. A good share of them will
try it again. But the bulk of the nesting occurs earlier. That’s
why it’s important to have good weather in May and June.”

The August roadside counts, which researchers use to understand
pheasant abundance, occur annually Aug. 1-15. They will take place
this year, too, so long as state government is not shut down during
that time period.

Habitat

Haroldson is more worried about pheasant habitat in the state than
he is about the poor spring weather. In the most recent CRP
sign-up, landowners enrolled less land than is set to expire this
fall, he said.

“We have bad years and the (pheasant) populations recover,”
Haroldson said. “The scarier thing is the loss of habitat. If
there’s not habitat, then only a small fraction can recover. In my
opinion, that’s the most important metric because you can’t do
anything about the weather.”

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