DAKOTA REPORT: North Dakota pheasant numbers

Photo courtesy of ND Game and Fish
Photo courtesy of ND Game and Fish

by Doug Leier

I often draw parallels between sports and the outdoors because it sometimes helps to look at situations from different perspectives.

Each season it seems, begins with promise, hope and optimism, along with predictions and prognostications. It’s a scenario that applies to your local high school or college football team, birds, deer or the Twins and Vikings.

And so it is with North Dakota pheasants in 2013, leading up to the season opener on Oct. 12.

Way last spring there was reason for optimism among hunters and wildlife managers, even though the annual spring pheasant crowing count was down 11 percent statewide. Following an extended winter and tardy spring, an 11 percent decline didn’t seem all that bad, and was a number that could realistically lead to a fall population increase given a good reproduction effort.

Initially, biologists were cautiously optimistic that the pheasant nesting effort may not have started until after the prolonged cool, wet weather broke, as habitat conditions were good because of spring moisture.

Now that the final summer production numbers are tabulated, it appears that early hope for a good hatch did not quite materialize.

Certainly, North Dakota has young pheasants to entice hunters this fall, but the State Game and Fish Department’s roadside survey conducted in late July and August indicates the fall population is down statewide from what it was in 2012.

Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for the Game and Fish Department, said the survey showed total pheasants are down 30 percent from last year. In addition, Kohn said brood observations were down 29 percent, and the average brood size was down 10 percent.

The final summary is based on 253 survey runs made along 101 brood routes across North Dakota.

“Poor production this spring resulted in fewer young birds added to the population and a lower fall population in all areas of the state,” Kohn said.

Noteworthy factors cited for the lower brood numbers, according to Kohn, were continued land use changes in the prime pheasant range, including removal of Conservation Reserve Program acres, grasslands converted to croplands and small grain fields converted to row crops; and continuous wet spring weather.

“Earlier this summer we thought it was possible that nesting season was delayed enough to avoid an influence from the cold, wet spring,” Kohn said, “but it now appears that wasn’t the case.”

Kohn said even though statistics reveal bird numbers are down statewide, there will still be local areas with good pheasant populations.

Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicate the number of birds observed was down 25 percent from 2012, and the number of broods was down 22 percent.

Results from the southeast show birds are down 43 percent from last year, and the number of broods down 42 percent.

Statistics from the northwest indicated pheasants are down 39 percent from last year, with broods down 32 percent.

The northeast district, generally containing secondary pheasant habitat with much of it lacking good winter cover, showed one brood and seven birds per 100 miles.

The 2013 regular pheasant season opens Oct. 12 and continues through Jan. 5, 2014.

And while the numbers might be a bit disappointing, I’ll remind you that even if the local team isn’t faring as well as hoped, fans still turn out for the games. In similar fashion, North Dakota hunters still have a wealth of reasons to head afield this fall.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: dleier@nd.gov


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