“How are the pheasants doing?” As Pheasants Forever’s Regional Wildlife Biologist, this is the question I’m asked the most in North Dakota, and I know many other wildlife managers from other states are asked the same thing. Although this sounds like a simple inquiry, the answer can be hard to pinpoint.
Throughout the year, Pheasants Forever and wildlife agencies try to get a trend of pheasant populations. This starts in the spring with crow counts. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has pre-designated routes that employees follow each spring to determine the number of roosters they hear crowing in the morning. This data is compared each year to see if the number of roosters heard varied from previous years. This is a very non-scientific way to determine population, as it does not account for hens or chicks. However, it does show an angle to determine the number of roosters.
A more accurate measure of rooster populations is analyzing harvest data. Hunter surveys are distributed each year and harvest information is cataloged and compared to previous years. Since 2008, we have seen the number of roosters harvested decline each year in North Dakota.
Brood counts are more accurate in determining populations. Again, routes are traveled by wildlife managers to determine how many hen pheasants are seen, and numbers of chicks with each hen are counted. This is not an exact science, but again gives us a glimpse into how the pheasants are doing.
The #1 determination of how the pheasants are doing is directly correlated with the amount of habitat on the ground. Nesting cover, brood-rearing cover, and winter cover are the major determining factors when it comes to pheasant populations. Weather also plays a critical role. This has been a cold and wet spring for many states, and this can be harder on populations than a hard winter as chicks are very sensitive at this time. Across the Midwest, we are seeing losses in CRP acres, and this in turn will also effect pheasant populations.
The Big Spur Blog is written by Jesse Beckers, Pheasants Forever’s Regional Wildlife Biologist for North Dakota. If you have a pheasant habitat or pheasant biology question for Jesse, email him at JBeckers@pheasantsforever.org.