North Dakota’s spring pheasant crowing count survey revealed a 14 percent decrease statewide compared to last year, according to Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for the state Game and Fish Department.
The only area of the state showing an increase was the southwest, up 5 percent from 2010. The number of crows heard in the northwest was down 17 percent, while counts in the southeast were down 30 percent. In the northeast where there is less pheasant habitat, the counts fell 36 percent.
Kohn said severe winters, poor production and loss of Conservation Reserve Program acreage have contributed to the decline in crow count numbers for the third year in a row.
“Three consecutive long winters with heavy snowfall have not been conducive to winter survival,” Kohn said. “In addition, after a tough winter hens enter spring stressed and in poor condition to begin reproduction, which may affect the number of eggs laid.”
Poor production the last three springs led to fewer young birds entering the population in the fall. “Poor production is a result of cool, wet weather at the time of hatch, which causes higher than normal mortality on chicks,” Kohn said. “I anticipated the southwest to have higher crow count numbers than the other pheasant districts because good numbers of pheasants were observed in this area last winter.”
Loss of CRP has decreased nesting and brooding cover, and Kohn said this has been most noticeable in the southeast where a decrease in CRP acres the last three years probably has had a significant effect on the number of pheasants produced. “Couple that with the number of acres of small grains removed from the landscape and replaced by row crops, lower pheasant numbers are expected,” he said.
In addition, predators could also have an adverse effect on pheasants. “I don’t have specific data to show a direct effect, but we do have an increase in mammalian predators on the landscape this spring, and they do eat eggs and meat to survive,” Kohn said. “I suspect they may be affecting pheasant populations in some localized areas.”
On the positive side, Kohn said pheasant hens are finding better quality nesting and brooding cover on the uplands this spring. However, high water will likely minimize lowland nesting attempts in many areas, so a strong renesting effort will be needed for good production.
“However, on dry upland sites the native, warm-season plants are doing extremely well this spring and one would anticipate a good number of insects and eventually grasshoppers to become available with a good legume habitat component this summer,” Kohn said. “June weather so far hasn’t been the best for hatching chicks, but warm evening temperatures have been good. Recent downpours in some areas may jeopardize small chicks in localized spots, but we have not experienced large scale hail storms in the primary pheasant range yet this spring. So at present, we are in a wait-and-see process on how production turns out this spring for all our upland game birds.”
Spring crowing count data is not always a good indicator of the fall population. It does not measure population density, but provides an index of the spring rooster population based on a trend of number of crows heard. Brood surveys, which begin in mid-July and are completed by September, are a better indicator of the summer’s pheasant production and provide insight into what to expect for a fall pheasant population.
Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop. The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to previous years’ data, providing a trend summary.