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marine_man

Pheasant Crowing Count Numbers Down

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From the ND GNF:

Pheasant Crowing Counts Down from Last Year

North Dakota’s spring pheasant crowing count survey revealed a 25 percent decrease statewide compared to last year, according to Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for the state Game and Fish Department. Crowing counts are down in all four regions of the state, primarily because of pheasant mortality during the harsh winter of 2008-09.

“The good news is that any reduction in rooster or hen numbers as a result of last winter comes from a pheasant population that was one of the highest on record in North Dakota,” Kohn said. “Even though our crow count data is down from 2008, it is still higher than in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The only difference is last winter and its possible effect on hen survival.”

Since last year, pheasant crowing counts are substantially lower in the northwest (down 25 percent), northeast (down 51 percent) and southeast (down 33 percent). The decline in the southwest (down 10 percent) wasn’t as dramatic. Kohn said most of the decreases come from areas considered secondary pheasant range, and where good winter cover is not as abundant and of lesser quality. “However, most of our field staff were surprised their routes were not down further,” he added. “In many areas of the state, our pheasant population, especially the roosters, probably had lower winter mortality than expected.”

Even though the crowing count survey provides good trend data on the status of roosters, Kohn said it does not provide information on the status of the adult hen population. “Hens are the segment of the population that determines the fall population,” he said. “Under normal winter conditions, this is nothing to worry about. But under severe winter situations, an abnormal (lower) sex ratio can occur with pheasants in the spring.”

Studies have shown that long, harsh winters can be more detrimental to adult hens than roosters. Game and Fish Department field staff noted a low number of hens with roosters this spring (1-2 hens per rooster, generally it is 3-5 hens per rooster), an indication that the hen population might be smaller. “This could result in a smaller than normal hatch and fewer birds in the population this fall,” Kohn said.

This past winter’s pheasant mortality was probably the highest since 1996-97. Kohn said birds were lost throughout the winter and in every county of the state, with snowfall in March and early April the most detrimental. “We knew this type of winter would eventually come, and that pheasants would die,” Kohn said. “This type of winter is an educational tool as it separates areas with good winter cover and food from other marginal areas.”

Spring crowing count data has little to do with predicting the fall population. It does not measure population density, but is an indicator of the spring rooster population trend based on crows. Brood surveys, which begin in mid-July and are completed by mid-August, provide a feel for the summer’s pheasant production and provide insight into what to expect in the fall.

“I am still optimistic for a good fall, but right now we are in the midst of the next critical phase – the peak of the pheasant hatch,” Kohn said. “We need warm, dry weather for the next couple of weeks to improve chick survival. Those first 14 days after hatch are critical for young chicks and any wet, cool nights pose problems and increase chick mortality, which in turn will lower the fall population.”

Regardless of the hatch success, Kohn said crowing count numbers indicate the 2009 pheasant hunting season structure will be similar to last year. Game and Fish Department director Terry Steinwand said this fall’s season will be finalized in mid-July when the small game proclamation is due at the governor’s office.

Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop. The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to previous years’ data.

marine_man

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