Bird Dog & Retriever News

October / November 2017 issue page 14

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Pheasant hunters should expect a repeat of 2016
It happens about as often as a total eclipse, but results from the Iowa roadside pheasant survey, conducted during the first two weeks of August, are not lining up with what is being reported from the field and by landowners from around the state.
"Survey results indicate a statewide average pheasant population decline of 30 percent and quail population decline of 23 percent, but pheasant brood sightings are up statewide and quail are being reported everywhere in the quail range," said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources who coordinates the survey.
So what happened?
The lack of dew in Iowa's ditches and fields during the survey timeframe is likely a major factor skewing this year's survey results, he said.
"Most of Iowa was listed as somewhere between being abnormally dry, in a drought or in a severe drought, during the survey. We need heavy dew when we do our surveys because it's the dew that causes the hen to move her brood from the protective cover to the gravel road to dry off before they begin feeding," said Bogenschutz. "We coordinate our routes with that dry-off period. Without the dew, there is no reason for her to expose her chicks."
He said major factors influencing annual changes in pheasant numbers are overwinter hen survival, brood survival and nest success. In years when snowfall is less than 30 inches, pheasant survival is good. Warm, dry springs increase nesting success. A mix of the two will nudge the counts one way or the other.
Most of Iowa had a below-average winter and a wetter-than-normal spring. Based on those weather indicators, Iowa should have a stable to a slight decrease in the pheasant population.
"During the past 54 years, we've had three years with weather similar to this year, the most recent in 2015, and in two of those years our pheasant population was status quo and one year it increased. This year's results do not agree with these past years with similar weather," he said.
"In a nutshell, drought conditions probably lead to a poor survey count in 2017," he said.
Bogenschutz said he expects almost a repeat of 2016 pheasant season, where hunters harvested about 250,000 roosters.
He said the drought is also likely responsible for fewer quail counted.
"I've been hearing from landowners and field staff who reported numerous males calling this spring, which indicates good winter survival. If a person has ever thought about hunting quail, they should head to southern Iowa this fall. This could be the best quail hunting we've had in nearly 30 years," Bogenschutz said.
The complete August roadside survey can be found at
Upland habitat trends in Iowa
Iowa is experiencing a gradual change in its upland habitat. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, between 1990 and 2016, Iowa lost nearly 3,000 square miles of small grains, hay land and land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – all potential pheasant habitat.
"That's equivalent to a strip of habitat 10 miles wide stretching from Omaha to Davenport. With the loss of small grains and hay lands to corn and soybean production, CRP is critical for Iowa pheasants," said Bogenschutz.
CRP is a federal farm program. Congress is scheduled to begin discussion on the 2018 Farm Bill this fall.
2017 Upland Bird Hunting Forecast Available
The wait is over for Kansas bird hunters. The 2017 Kansas Upland Bird Hunting Forecast is available online and in printed form. The report summarizes data from spring and summer surveys and predicts what pheasant, quail and prairie chicken hunters may experience across Kansas this fall. The good news is that it's good news.
Biologists create the forecast using surveys of breeding populations and reproductive success of pheasants, quail, and prairie chickens. Breeding population data are gathered with spring whistle count surveys for quail, crow count surveys for pheasants and lek count surveys for greater prairie chickens. Last spring, pheasant crow count numbers were back to pre-drought averages and quail whistle counts were the highest recorded since the survey began 20 years ago. Lek counts for greater prairie chickens were down slightly.
The most important factors in predicting fall bird numbers include nesting success and chick survival, both of which depend on habitat conditions and spring and summer weather. Habitat conditions were good to excellent across Kansas and much of the state received adequate precipitation through spring and summer. The biggest limiting factor this year was the April 29 snowstorm that dumped as many as 20 inches of snow in areas of western Kansas. The storm caused mortality in adult quail and occurred during peak laying for pheasants. Other weather events, such as heavy rain and hail, can also impact bird populations locally.
Overall, the data indicates that pheasant hunting will be fair to good this year. While the 2016 pheasant harvest was low, the average daily bag per hunter was above average, suggesting an above-average harvest could have occurred had there been greater hunter participation.
Quail hunting in Kansas should be good to locally great in 2017. Precipitation patterns observed over the past five years have altered vegetation, increasing both the quality and quantity of habitat and allowing for a modern quail boom.
While prairie chicken lek counts were down slightly this year, hunting opportunities should be good throughout the Greater Prairie Chicken Hunting Unit. The best opportunities this fall will be in the Smoky Hills Region (northcentral), where populations have been increasing.
For more detailed information and regional breakdowns for all three species, consult the 2017 Upland Bird Hunting Forecast at or pick one up at any Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Office. The full forecast will also be featured in the 2017 November/December issue of Kansas Wildlife & Parks Magazine.
State pheasant index down 26 percent from last year
It's habitat that matters and loss of habitat in the farmland regions has contributed to a 26 percent decline in Minnesota's pheasant index compared to last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
"There has been a steady decline in undisturbed nesting cover since the mid-2000s, and our pheasant population has declined as a result," said Nicole Davros, the DNR research scientist who oversees the annual August roadside survey that monitors pheasant population trends. "Although it appeared mild winter weather and dry summer weather might boost our numbers, that wasn't the case."
The 2017 pheasant index is 32 percent below the 10-year average and 62 percent below the long-term average.
Minnesota has lost about 686,800 acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres statewide since 2007. The program, covered under the federal Farm Bill, pays farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and restore vegetation that will reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators.
Roadside survey data
The DNR's August roadside survey for pheasants showed a 26 percent decrease in the overall pheasant index from 2016. This year's statewide pheasant index was 38.1 birds per 100 miles of roads driven.
All regions had declines in the pheasant index compared to last year except the south-central and southeast regions, which remained similar. The highest pheasant counts were in the west central, southwest, and south-central regions where observers reported 43 to 55 birds per 100 miles driven. Hunters should find the best hunting opportunities in these regions.
Minnesota's 2017 pheasant season runs from Saturday, Oct. 14, through Monday, Jan. 1.
Pheasants and grassland habitat
Weather and habitat are the two main factors that drive Minnesota's pheasant population trends. Although weather causes annual fluctuations in pheasant numbers, nesting habitat is more important for long-term trends. Minnesota peaked in nesting habitat acres, particularly CRP, in 2007 but has been experiencing a steady decline annually. The pheasant index and pheasant harvest have declined in response to these habitat losses.
The 2012 version of the Farm Bill called for reduced spending on CRP and a cap of 24 million acres nationwide. The Farm Bill is due to be renewed in 2018, and many conservation groups are asking for enough funding to support 40 million acres of CRP.
The DNR and Minnesota conservation community also are advocating for a Working Lands program associated with CRP that allows grazing and haying of some acres under a conservation plan; and increased state input in determining where those acres should go to achieve the greatest benefits for landowners, wildlife, pollinators and clean water.
Weather conditions and survival
Warm winters usually lead to good hen survival and therefore more nests in the spring; however, the 2017 hen index, at 5.8 hens per 100 miles, was also down 26 percent from last year.
"It's surprising to see our hen index down this year," Davros said. "We experienced a pretty mild winter so hen survival should have been good. But the amount of habitat on the landscape makes the difference in the long run, so we may be at the point that good weather just isn't enough to help us anymore."
Another key indicator of annual reproduction is the number of broods observed during roadside surveys. The 2017 brood index decreased 34 percent from last year, and the number of broods per 100 hens declined 10 percent from 2016.
Monitoring pheasant population trends is part of the DNR's annual August roadside wildlife survey, which began in 1955. DNR wildlife managers and conservation officers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first half of August. This year's survey consisted of 171 25-mile-long routes, with 151 routes located in the 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, eastern cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits, mourning doves and other wildlife.
The 2017 August Roadside Survey report and a map of pheasant hunting prospects are available at Also recorded in this year's survey:
The gray partridge index decreased 63 percent from 2016 and was 60 percent below the 10-year average and 90 percent below the long-term average.
The mourning dove index decreased 6 percent from 2016 and remained below the 10-year average and long-term averages.
During the 2017 pheasant season, the daily bag limit is two roosters through November, and it increases to three roosters on Friday, Dec. 1. The possession limit is six roosters (increasing to nine roosters on Dec. 1). Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset. Additional details are available at


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Copyrights Bird Dog & Retriever News November 2017
Do not reproduce or retransmit in any form, and we surf the web, we'll find you.
Maintained by Dennis Guldan e-mail
Bird Dog & Retriever News, PO Box 120089, New Brighton, MN 55112,
Phone 612-868-9169 Adv deadline 1st of the month prior to the issue.