Fearing for pheasants

Published: Jun. 29, 2020 at 7:02 PM CDT
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Spring pheasant numbers are up significantly from last year.

While this might be good news for hunters, there are concerns for the health of the birds.

The strange winter season helped the pheasant count jump by 15%. And, while the weather might've helped bring numbers up, it's the weather that's also causing problems.

While the winter may have been wet, it's been relatively calm for wildlife, and that has given the pheasant population what it needs to spike.

"They're using all their energy to get from their cover to where the food is and then obviously to stay warm. So if they have to spend more energy digging through a foot of snow or ice or things like that, then they have a tougher time coming through,” Upland Game Management Biologist R.J. Gross said.

However, pheasants are going through their busiest time of the year for hatching right now, and that same low moisture isn't just affecting their landscape. It's taking a toll on their food source.

"The first two weeks of their life, they specifically eat insects. When there's low moisture, insects can't complete their life cycle and there just aren't that many insects. I don't have a test to see how many bugs are out there except for what I call my 'windshield test', and there's still a lot of bugs on the windshield,” Gross said.

The concern is that this year could be similar to the drought in 2017, which devastated the pheasant population. It's still recovering.

"Drought is probably the worst thing that can happen to pheasants. It doesn't affect the adults kind of like a bad winter would. But in 2017, there were basically zero insects out there for the chicks. The habitat wasn't there, it was so dry,” Gross said.

Gross added that the flock may have to wait for a robust conservation program to fully recover. But even then, the weather drives the numbers.