Blame weather: High nest success unlikely for upland birds in region

New Ulm, Minn. — What started as a weird spring hasn’t become any less so, and that’s not exactly a good thing for all those critters out there trying to bring babies into the world.

“It’s just a strange year – I don’t know what to think,” said Kurt Haroldson, DNR assistant regional wildlife manager in New Ulm. “We have nice weather, and then snow. It’s just weird.”

The peak of the pheasant hatch tends to be about June 7.

“If we had our choice, it would be sunny and warm for the next two weeks,” Haroldson said.

Don’t count on it, though, as there’s a fair amount of rain in the forecast.

“If it’s not too cool, then it shouldn’t be too bad,” he said. “What we don’t want to see is rain and 40s. Chicks are little and they can’t take that. More of them die in weather like that.”

Dave Rave, DNR goose research specialist in Bemidji, has witnessed first-hand all of what the spring weather has had to offer. During his annual aerial goose population survey, the southern one-third of the state was “popcorn dry.”

Conditions were “very wet” in the west-central part of the state – from about the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge to Fergus Falls. And central and northern portions of the state were dry to about average, he said.

“Then we got the huge rains two weekends ago and it hasn’t stopped raining since,” Rave said. “Now, there’s tons of water out there and lots of nests, unfortunately, got flooded during that period.”

Ducks that were affected by the rains likely will re-nest, though re-nesting efforts aren’t as strong as initial ones. Geese, though, don’t do much in the way of re-nesting.

In the Glenwood area, “the geese seemed like they were kind of lost out there,” said Kevin Kotts, DNR area wildlife manager. The birds, he said, were in the areas where they nest, but the timing wasn’t right.

Said Rave: “My guess on geese is we will have somewhat of a diminished effort. There’s been an awful lot of geese just standing around not doing much. The geese that did nest will have smaller clutches of eggs and smaller goslings. It will probably be a less-than-average to poor production year for geese.”

Rave noted, though, there are “huge” numbers of 1-, 2-, and 3-year old birds – many of which did not breed this year. Those birds, along with failed breeders this year, are on their way to the Canadian tundra.

“These birds will come pouring back down in early to mid-September,” he said. “I anticipate that September season is going to be awfully good this year.”

Few people anticipate a good duck hatch this year.

“It won’t be a great waterfowl production year, I wouldn’t expect,” said Jeff Lawrence, leader of the DNR Wetland Wildlife Population and Research Group in Bemidji.

But the abundant water in wetlands should improve re-nesting success. In some areas around Glenwood, for example, wetlands that were totally dry last fall now have plenty of water.

“There’s enough run-off for some of the basins to really refill,” Kotts said. “That is providing nice conditions for ducks. The nice things with ducks and pheasants is they will re-nest.”

Haroldson figures there already are some pheasant chicks on the ground. Pheasants that lose eggs will re-nest – though not with the fervor of the initial effort – but those that lose broods will not.

And while Haroldson worries about the weather and its effect on the birds, his greater concern is the continued loss of grass in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

“That’s going to have long-term negative effects on ducks and pheasants and all grassland wildlife,” he said.

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