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Minnesota's pheasant population drops 29 percent

  • Blog Post by: Doug Smith
  • September 9, 2013 - 2:06 PM

More bad news for Minnesota pheasant hunters: The state's pheasant population is down 29 percent from last year, due to a long winter and cold, wet spring and loss of habitat.

Just last week, South Dakota reported a 64 percent decline in its ringneck population.

Minnesota’s 2013 pheasant index is 64 percent below the 10-year average and 72 percent below the long-term average.

The Department of Natural Resources predicts pheasant hunters will harvest about 246,000 roosters this fall – which would be down 18,000 from last year's estimated harvest of 264,000. It's also less than half the number of pheasants taken during the 2005-2008 seasons when hunting was exceptionally good.

Officials said the recent loss of habitat is hurting the pheasant population

Enrollment in the federal Conservation Reserve Program declined by 63,700 acres in Minnesota’s pheasant range over the last year and contracts for nearly 400,000 acres of statewide CRP lands are scheduled to expire during the next 3 years. If not re-enrolled, this would reduce CRP acres in Minnesota by 30 percent. High land rental rates and competing uses for farmland diminish the economic attractiveness of farmland conservation programs.

Meanwhile, the DNR said the highest pheasant counts were in the southwest region, where observers reported 51 birds per 100 miles of survey driven. Hunters should find good harvest opportunities in west-central, east-central and south-central Minnesota.

The DNR said high spring precipitation and below average temperatures hurt nesting this year. This year’s average hatch date was delayed to June 20, which is 11 days later than the 10-year average of June 9.

Here's more from DNR news release:

Although fewer broods were seen, brood size was larger than last year and comparable to the long-term average. Actual reproduction rates may be higher than the survey suggests. Hens that were successful nesting later in the season tend to be underrepresented in roadside data and it is possible that hens were still nesting or in heavier cover with young chicks during the survey period. 

The pheasant population estimate is part of the DNR’s annual August roadside wildlife survey, which began in 1955. DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first half of August. This year's survey consisted of 171 routes, each 25 miles long, with 152 routes located in the ring-necked pheasant range.

Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they see. The data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long-term population trends of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits, mourning doves and other wildlife. 

The gray partridge index also decreased from last year and remained below the 10-year average. The cottontail rabbit index increased from last year but stayed below the 10-year and long-term average. The jackrabbit index was 87 percent below the long-term average. Finally, the mourning dove index was 20 percent below last year and lower than the 10-year and long-term averages.
 

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