The spring pheasant survey results can represent two important life stages for pheasant populations in Kansas. Spring surveys can indicate over-winter survival for a population. Often winter can be a bottleneck for some upland game populations. However, in western Kansas winters are often much more mild than more northern latitudes and pheasant survival is usually high throughout much of Kansas. When this is the case, spring surveys can also reflect the previous breeding season success or production for the population. In the 2010 breeding season Kansas experienced high production for much of the pheasant population, which is carried over into the 2011 Pheasant Crow Count because of a fairly mild winter in western Kansas. Other regions in the south-central and north-eastern part of the state showed declines, likely due to extreme weather events (e.g., hail storms) during the nesting and brooding period, or not enough precipitation prior to the 2010 breeding season. North-east Kansas has had some severe winters recently, combined with inclement weather during the breeding season, and the population has declined as a result.
Overall, western Kansas has one of the strongest breeding populations of pheasants in its history this year (Figure 3), which is reflected in extremely high crow counts for 2011(Figure 1). However, breeding season climate conditions are not very favorable for 2011 (extreme drought), and the 2011 fall pheasant population may not continue to increase like it has in recent years in western Kansas. Figure 3 shows the interpolated breeding density of pheasants across their habitable range in Kansas. Those areas of high percentage cropland in western Kansas show the highest densities of pheasants. This year many of those same areas are seeing problems with winter wheat growth, which may impact nesting success in those areas. Poor wheat development can lead to early harvesting, which could add to the decline of successful pheasant nests and broods. The drought will also cause a decline in brooding conditions, possibly negatively impacting brood survival. Our late summer brood surveys (July and August) will provide better projections of fall populations.