A tough spring for state’s pheasant numbers?

Madelia, Minn. — This year more than most, the DNR’s August roadside wildlife counts will go far in determining what pheasant hunters will find afield come October.

Right now, state officials say, spring nesting success of the favorite bird of southern Minnesota is sort of a mystery, thanks to a late, and sometimes wet, spring.

“With this spring, we’d assumed things would be delayed,” said Nicole Davros, the DNR’s upland game project leader, part of Madelia’s Farmland Research Group, earlier this week.

Davros a week ago emailed southern Minnesota wildlife managers for feedback regarding pheasants and their nesting success. What she got back was a mixed bag.

The bad: The Rochester and Owatonna areas were particularly wet this spring, thus, “We’re expecting a poor season,” Davros said.

Other areas, too, were wet, she said, but perhaps not as much so, and therein lies the possible good.

Some DNR wildlifers reported they were seeing roosters with hens, meaning renesting might be ahead. Others, including Dave Trauba, the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area manager, said he, too, had seen promising signs.

“It’s been a real weird nesting season so far,” Trauba said Monday. The early spring cold and rain “were not conducive to good nesting conditions. It had me worried,” he said.

“But if I was to come up with a silver lining, it’s that everything’s late this year,” Trauba said. That includes the mowing of hayfields and road ditches.

He hopes early pheasant-nesting failure is resulting in a strong re-nesting effort.

Trauba said he hasn’t seen a lot of midday hen pheasant activity along roadways, and he hopes that means they’re either re-nesting, or with a brood.

If those late renesters can dodge haybines and other cutting equipment, they’ll find good food sources, according to Davros, who said insects should now be plentiful.

Weather conditions, Trauba points out, can be expected to be good or bad, from year to year. Habitat is what will prove to be the overriding factor in wild birds that are available, consistently.

“Really, the bottom line comes down to the number of idle acres on the landscape,” he said. “That’s the big story.”

Davros agrees, but adds that a long-term trend seems to be a loss of habitat acres, primarily those provided by the federal Conservation Reserve Program.

Last year’s drought across much of the Midwest also proved to be a habitat killer. High demand for hay meant many cut their crops late in the season, and that in some places resulted in a delayed alfalfa crop this year.

“We need to get CRP back on the landscape, and we need the hay shortage to go away,” Davros said.

She expects to find out soon the results of this year’s nesting season.

“We’ll have to wait till the August surveys to see how things really went,” she said.

Later this summer, too, the DNR will have available the results of last year’s hunting season, when it was anticipated hunters would take about 290,000 birds, well below the most recent heydays of the mid-2000s.

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