North Dakota's Pheasant Population

Doug Leier

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North Dakota's roadside pheasant survey revealed the pheasant population is in better shape than last year, especially in the southern half of the state

If deer hunting is king in North Dakota in terms of popularity, then pheasant hunting would be the first prince. While I can't imagine pheasant ever taking the throne, second in this state is nothing to be ashamed of when you consider the many waterfowl hunting opportunities available.

With the 2010 fall rooster season already underway, anyone who has not yet taken the field should find the prospects improved somewhat from last year.

North Dakota's spring pheasant crowing count survey revealed a 6 percent decrease statewide compared to last year, according to Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for the state Game and Fish Department.

While that decrease may not seem like good news, after two difficult winters not many people would have been surprised if the decline was more drastic than that.

Around the state, the number of crows heard in the northwest was down 16 percent from 2009, while counts in the southwest and southeast were relatively unchanged from last year. In the northeast where there are fewer birds, the counts decreased 10 percent.

North Dakota's roadside pheasant survey conducted in late July and August revealed the pheasant population is in much better shape than last year, especially in the southern half of the state. Total pheasants were up 34 percent statewide from last year, Kohn said, while brood observations were up 26 percent, and average brood size was up 14 percent.

This summer's brood data suggests much better production this spring than in 2008 and 2009. “Good nesting and brooding cover, coupled with improved weather conditions, has increased nesting success and brood/chick survival,” Kohn said. “Consequently, more young birds will be added to the population this fall, improving pheasant numbers, especially in the southern half of the state.”

Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicate both the number of broods and number of birds observed were up 30 percent from 2009. Observers counted 19 broods and 165 birds per 100 miles. The average brood size was six. “Brood numbers indicate the southwest will have the best pheasant numbers this fall,” Kohn said. “Though survey numbers are not at the level observed during the peak years of the mid 2000s, hunters in the southwest can expect to see good numbers of pheasants.”

Results from the southeast show 10 broods and 76 birds per 100 miles. The average brood size was 5.2. “Hunters should find more pheasants in the southeastern part of the state than last fall, as an increase in the number of broods and birds observed indicates about a 30 percent increase in pheasant numbers,” Kohn said.
Statistics from the northwest indicated seven broods and 48 birds per 100 miles. Average brood size was 5.1. “I expect the northwest will have about the same number of pheasants this fall as last year, as birds observed on the routes were unchanged from 2009 and the number of broods observed increased only 9 percent,” Kohn said.

The northeast district, generally containing secondary pheasant habitat and for the most part lacking good winter cover, showed 1.3 broods and 12 birds per 100 miles. Average brood size was 5.36. Both number of birds observed and number of broods recorded were down 30 percent. “This district is not known for its pheasant population, but there will be local areas holding birds,” Kohn said.

While the outlook for 2010 is improved from last year, pheasant numbers are still down roughly 40 percent from the peak years of 2003-08.

While at least some of that decline is related to the loss of 1 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands in North Dakota, a mild winter would surely help keep the pheasant population headed in the right direction.

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

Posted by Doug Leier under Hunting on October 13, 10 10:09 AM | Permalink

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