Harsh winter conditions in southwest North Dakota have concentrated pheasants in the only refuges left - groves and farmyards. Photo courtesy of Craig Armstrong.
Today's broken record alert: Another rough winter is taking its toll in the Upper Midwestern reaches of pheasant country. Here are compiled reports from the hardest hit states.
Record to near-record snowfall has blanketed much of North Dakota each winter since 2008-09. As of the end of January, the average 2' snow depth was nearly double what it was last year at the same time. There are reports of pheasant losses. "What this winter will mean in terms of pheasant hunting opportunities next fall is hard to tell," said North Dakota Fish Department Wildlife Chief Randy Kreil. "For the most part, birds were able to adapt the past two winters under similar conditions. But then again, good nesting habitat in spring allowed them to rebound, (and) with the continued loss of Conservation Reserve Program acres, their ability to rebound could be impaired."
The Hi-Line and southern regions of eastern Montana have been hammered by continued bouts of Arctic air and record-breaking snowfall. Impacts to upland game bird populations may be severe in some locations.
Pheasants in Minnesota are enduring the region's most severe winter since the devastation of 1995-96 and 1996-97. Snow and cold started in early December, and snow depths across the southern pheasant range in Minnesota last week ranged from 24 to 30 inches. During last year's tough winter, standing crops leftover from a wet harvest season helped birds with food and cover - not the case this year with the 2010 crops being harvested early in the fall.
Brutal cold and snow, particularly high winds and blowing snow, have contributed to some pheasant mortality in areas with unsuitable thermal cover. Motorists are reporting seeing many pheasants along roadsides, which has led to many vehicle-related bird deaths.
Sources: Associated Press, Billings Gazette, Great Falls Tribune, Minnesota Outdoor News