Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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MN: State pheasant numbers plummet

Madelia, Minn. – During the August roadside counts, which the
DNR uses to gauge pheasant abundance, Kurt Haroldson got a call
from one of the conservation officers conducting the counts.

The officer wanted Haroldson to know he was, indeed, awake as he
drove, looking for birds to count.

And that wasn’t the only call or email he received from people
conducting the roadside surveys, which resulted in a pheasant index
– 23 birds per 100 miles – that’s the second-lowest on
record.

“We knew it was going down,” Haroldson, a wildlife biologist for
the DNR in Madelia, said. “We were hoping the magnitude wasn’t
going to be this great.”

This year’s pheasant index is 64 percent below last year; 71
percent below the 10-year average; 77 percent below the long-term
average; and 79 percent below the Soil Bank years of 1955-64.

The only time the index was this low was in 1986, when counts
revealed 22 birds per 100 miles.

Harsh winter and poor spring weather are the main reasons for the
decline, Haroldson said.

Last winter was the second consecutive severe winter, which
resulted in hen counts this year that were 72 percent below the
long-term average.

And cold and wet weather from April through June resulted in brood
counts that were 75 percent below the 10-year average.

“(Pheasant counts) always go down with a bad winter or a cold, wet
spring,” Haroldson said. “We had both this year.”

The survey also showed there were 65 hens per 100 roosters, which
is unusually low. It’s the second-lowest on record; the average
during the CRP years of 1987 through 2010 is nearly 150 hens per
100 roosters.

According to a DNR news release, this “suggests hen mortality was
high or hens were nesting or caring for young broods during the
survey. If the late nesting effort was greater than normal, the
2011 pheasant population and the fall harvest may be higher than
forecast. Pheasant populations can rebound fast given good habitat,
mild winter weather and favorable spring nesting conditions.”

Declines were stark in many areas of the state.

The pheasant index in the southwestern part of the state, for
example, fell to 19 birds per 100 miles driven. That’s a decline of
82 percent from last year. Other declines include the Central
Region (down 75 percent); the West Central Region (down 62
percent); and the South Central Region (down 59 percent).

Based on the roadside counts, hunters should kill about 249,000
roosters during this fall’s season, which runs from Oct. 15 through
Jan. 1, 2012.

The last time the kill was in that range was 2001, when hunters
killed just fewer than 267,000 roosters.

They killed more than 359,000 last year. From 2003 to 2009, they
killed more than 400,000 each year; more than 500,000 five times;
and more than 600,000 one time.

Hunters will be able to kill pheasants this fall, but they “can
expect to walk farther between flushes,” Haroldson said.

Habitat

If there’s a silver lining to this year’s roadside report, it’s
that there was a net gain of 8,000 acres of protected habitat in
the state’s pheasant range.

The most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that isn’t
disturbed during the nesting season. Protected grasslands make up
about 6 percent of the pheasant range.

“That’s a short-term good thing because we are about to lose a lot
more habitat,” Haroldson said. “And the future of CRP is just
looking really bleak.

“The thing about weather is that populations recover from that. The
thing about loss of habitat is there is no recovery from that,
except for to add more habitat,” he said.

The state is expected to lose 550,000 acres of CRP in the next
three years.

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