State continues to protect pheasant habitat through land purchasesPublished 9:20am Tuesday, April 8, 2014 Updated 11:22am Tuesday, April 8, 2014
There are two factors critical to maintaining healthy pheasant populations: weather and available habitat.
While these elements affect pheasants year-round, they’re highlighted annually as the harshest season comes to an end and pheasants begin their next reproductive cycle. A tough winter can certainly result in bird mortality, but the real key is getting healthy and strong hens into spring nesting season. Healthy hens lead to larger clutches of eggs, which adds up to more chicks headed toward autumn.
Generally speaking, the winter of 2013-2014 was toughest on pheasants and pheasant habitat in the Great Lakes region where heavy snows and bitter cold made for a long winter that continues despite the calendar turning to spring. Meanwhile, the Dakotas experienced a relatively mild winter, while the lack of snow accumulation across parts of the Great Plains has biologists concerned, the moisture being needed to restore habitat conditions following three years of drought.
In Minnesota, serious winter weather arrived early and hasn’t left yet.
“This has been an extremely cold winter. Many areas have experienced more than 50 days with minimum air temperatures at or below 0 degrees,” says Nicole Davros, upland game project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “Snow drifts have filled all but the largest cattail marshes, so good winter cover has become more limited. Birds are taking advantage of food plots and are utilizing roadsides in areas where the snow has become too deep or crusted over.”
Davros notes deep snow didn’t develop until late January, and the deepest snow depths occurred outside the state’s core pheasant range.
Strong winds helped keep fields open for feeding. While the winter has been tough at times, it pales in comparison to the fifty-eight thousand acres of undisturbed grassland habitat lost in the state’s pheasant range.
To combat this acreage loss, Minnesota continues to permanently protect habitat through land acquisition via its voter-approved Legacy Amendment. Hunters will be happy to hear the state is also expanding its Walk-in Access (WIA) program from 28 to 35 counties in 2014.