The DNR’s Markl said feeding efforts can benefit pheasants if the feed helps keep ringnecks close to good winter cover, where they are less vulnerable to weather and predators than in the open searching for food.
But, he said: “I’m not so worried about them starving. That’s not an issue just yet. It’s more the exposure time.’’
In western Minnesota, the snowfall hasn’t been heavy, said Dave Trauba, DNR area wildlife manager at Lac qui Parle.
“It’s been cold, and I’m sure the birds will be stressed going into spring, but I don’t think we’ve had widespread mortality,’’ he said. “We don’t have any real cover issues yet where our cattail sloughs are blown in [with snow].’’
Added Trauba: “Normally when you get a tough winter, the phones will ring and people will say we need to do something [to help the pheasants]. We haven’t had those phone calls yet.’’
Meanwhile, ringnecks are facing continued loss of habitat, which contributed to the 29 percent drop in the population index last year. Besides loss of grasslands, Markl said he’s seeing more tree groves and fencelines being removed to maximize crop production.
Still, whatever happens the rest of the winter, the wildlife managers and Pheasants Forever members agree that a mild, dry spring will be key.
“If we can get a good nesting season, we can rebuild pheasant numbers in a hurry,’’ Trauba said.
Doug Smith • firstname.lastname@example.org