The average nest initiation date for pheasants is May 1. The following describes recent pheasant nesting conditions, and was compiled from field reports from Pheasants Forever and state natural resource agency wildlife biologists.
Heading into this spring, Minnesota's overall pheasant population was down due to increased mortality from a long and severe winter, and there hasn't been much of a spring to speak of. "Minnesota is very wet across most of its pheasant range and has experienced a cooler and wetter spring to date than normal," said Eran Sandquist, Pheasants Forever's Regional Wildlife Biologist in Minnesota. All Sandquist and other Minnesota pheasant hunters can do is hope for drier weather. "If June brings warm, dry weather that continues through the brood rearing season, that will help pheasant populations rebound some and have the biggest impact on the number of birds for this fall's hunting season," Sandquist said.
Eastern South Dakota is wet right now thanks to spring runoff and rains. But if things can dry up over the next couple weeks, that would make for a good nesting season in the state, according to Matt Morlock, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologist based out of Brookings, South Dakota. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) enrollment has remained steady in the state for the last year at approximately 1.1 million acres. One of the newest CRP practices in South Dakota, the James River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), has been popular in its first year, with more than 50,000 acres enrolled in the James River Valley from Aberdeen down to Yankton, and Morlock says those CREP acres equal nesting cover acres. Nesting conditions west of Mitchell and over to the "Golden Triangle" area (Gregory, Winner and Chamberlain area) should be strong, and Morlock says a "sleeper" spot for pheasant production could be the northwest area of the state, around the Lemon area. The notable exception to the outlook is the southeast corner of the state. "There's not a lot of available nesting cover in that part of the state, and what CRP is there is wetland right now."
"It's been wet and cold in North Dakota," says Jesse Beckers, Pheasants Forever's Regional Wildlife Biologist in the state. Despite the runoff, rain and spring flooding, Beckers said acres were being enrolled during the recent CRP signup, so the birds will have places to go once things dry out – North Dakota is still at more than 2.6 million CRP acres. Beckers says the nesting may also be a bit behind this year because of the unseasonably cool temps.
Following the best year for pheasants in Kansas in two decades, the winter carryover of the birds was good. However, the western third of the state is mired in a severe drought that has the state's wheat crop in tough shape, and pheasants depend on that wheat for nesting cover. "I've heard from some farmers who are just plowing it up and going for another crop," said Jim Pitman, Small Game Coordinator with the Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks, "And if the drought is bad for the crops, it's not good for grasslands, either." Pitman cautions that nesting conditions in western Kansas could improve dramatically with some rainfall in the coming weeks. He's a bit more optimistic about central Kansas, where he says there's a good amount of nesting cover and the drought is less severe.
According to the spring survey from early April, it's a mixed bag of conditions across Nebraska, says Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manger with the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission. In the eastern part of the state, pheasant numbers were down, indicating poor overwinter survival. Pheasant numbers were on par in the panhandle and north central. The best news comes from the best pheasant region in the state – southwest Nebraska – where overwinter survival was good. Lusk says Nebraska has been fortunate to miss a lot of the storm activity and flooding that's plaguing other states in pheasant country, and he's hoping for good weather at the peak of the pheasant hatch.
It's cold and wet in Iowa, anything but ideal nesting conditions for pheasant hens that already have eggs on the ground. Todd Bogenschutz, Upland Game Biologist/Farm Bill Coordinator with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, reports winter survival for pheasants was below average due to another winter with snowfall at a foot above normal. Pheasant densities in Iowa are highest in the northwest and north central portions of the state, regions both hit hard by winter. "We could see an increase in a region or two, especially southern Iowa, but we're not expecting any recovery or large change in numbers, especially in northern Iowa," Bogenschutz says. The new Iowa Management and Access Program (IMAP) is getting underway this spring, which will allow the state to create and manage habitat on 3,700 acres per year, while making those lands available for public hunting. It's no consolation for pheasants nesting this year, but will help in years to come.
For the complete Pheasant Nesting Habitat Conditions report, click here.
- Anthony Hauck is Pheasants Forever's Online Editor