Minnesota pheasant numbers fell 17% from a year ago, according to roadside counts completed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Throughout the state’s pheasant range, an average of 37.4 pheasants were observed per 100 miles during the survey conducted July 30 to Aug. 18. The pheasant count this year was slightly lower than the state’s 10-year average and about 60% down from the long-term average.
Late-season snowstorms, spring rains that often were monsoon-like and flooding likely contributed to the decline, the DNR said. Severe cold weather last winter, particularly between Jan. 27-31, also might have adversely affected pheasants.
“The biggest thing was the combination of snow and cold that persisted,’’ said Tim Lyons, DNR upland game research scientist. “Also, areas in the spring that had widespread flooding had late pheasant nesting attempts.’’
Hen pheasants that lose their nests before chicks hatch will attempt to bring off broods a second or even a third time. But if chicks die after hatching, hens in most cases won’t attempt to nest again.
Lyons believes nests were lost to persistent spring rains and flooding because in recent weeks he’s seen hens with chicks that obviously were born after mid-June, the typical hatch time for Minnesota ringnecks.
“Last week I saw a hen with a brood that couldn’t have been more than a week and a half old,’’ he said.
Buried in the disappointing roadside report released Wednesday was a 29,903-acre uptick in grassland habitat the agency identified on private, state and federal lands, compared to 2018.
Relatively good news also was found in the range-wide rooster index of 6.5 male birds per 100 miles, unchanged from last year.
Key pheasant states Iowa and Nebraska recently reported similar falloffs — Iowa’s by an identical 17%. (South Dakota has yet to report.)
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s pheasant-range eastern cottontail rabbit count was similar to last year, while white-tailed deer (up 45%), sandhill crane (up 25%) and gray partridge (up marginally to 2.4 birds per 100 miles) indices increased, and mourning doves declined (down 29%).