Thirty-two percent decline rangewide, but wet spring could mean good reproduction
PRATT -- Each spring, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) conducts a survey of pheasants throughout their range in the Sunflower State. As the mating season approaches, roosters increase crowing, and KDWP staff driving routes, stopping at established stations to listen for the birds. Data from this survey, combined with the summer brood count survey in August, helps determine the outlook for the fall pheasant crop. A wet spring made surveying difficult but may spell good news for nesting birds.
This year's spring survey period was April 25 through May 22, seven days later than normal due to muddy or impassible roads in much of the central part of the state. Sixty-one of 63 established routes were assigned for 2007, and 55 were successfully run. Flooding prevented completion of several routes. Fifty of the routes were completed in both 2006 and 2007 by the same observers, providing statistical consistency to the survey.
Rangewide, the 2007 Pheasant Crowing Survey (PCS) index was 14.3 crows per station, down 32 percent from 2006. Overall, 47 of the 50 comparable routes decreased this year.
In the northwest, 12 routes were run by the same observers as in 2006, and the crowing birds counted decreased 17 percent from 2006. Ten of 11 routes run by the same observer in both years decreased. The Sherman County route sharply increased, probably due to a lack of irrigation-engine noise this year compared to heavy noise in 2006, when much of the state was experiencing drought conditions.
In northcentral Kansas, 10 of 12 routes were run, yielding an average of 9.7 crows per station, a 41 percent decrease from last year. All 10 routes were run by last year’s observers. One route increased, and nine decreased. The Russell County route was permanently dropped this year because of oil pump noise, and the new Ellsworth County route was added.
In the northeast, nine of the 10 routes were run, seven by 2006 observers. All of the seven comparable survey routes decreased, and the overall crow count decrease was 46 percent.
In southwest Kansas, 16 of 18 routes were completed, all by last year's observers. Fifteen of the16 comparable routes decreased, yielding an average decline of 34 percent.
Seven of the 9 survey routes were successfully run in southcentral Kansas this spring, and six of those had the same observers as in 2006. The six comparable routes decreased 58 percent overall, with each of the six showing a decrease.
The 2006-2007 changes in the PCS index demonstrate the relative importance of spring and summer conditions as compared to winter conditions for Kansas pheasants. Last year was one of the driest spring and summer reproductive periods on record. Further exacerbating the situation was the approximately two-week period in July when temperatures daily reached 100 to 110 degrees.
Results of the spring Pheasant Crowing Survey do not necessarily spell a poor pheasant hunting season, however. KDWP's research biologist Randy Rodgers explains:
"The sharp declines in this spring’s breeding population throughout the Kansas pheasant range reflects the strong negative impact of the statewide drought on last year’s pheasant production," says Rodgers. "Severe winter conditions that gripped 12 to 15 counties in far western Kansas this past January and February also took a toll on pheasants in those areas.
"Nevertheless, the decline in the PCS index in these hard-hit areas proved to be more moderate than I expected, despite winter conditions being the worst in memory," Rodgers continues. "With excellent wheat and soil-moisture conditions in western Kansas this spring, and with the projected timing of wheat harvest about two weeks later than normal, pheasant production prospects look very good."
Much of the rest of the state reports similar nesting conditions this year although localized flooding in parts of central Kansas could hamper nesting in this part of the state. For a more complete picture of the pheasant outlook for the fall, check the KDWP website,, in mid-September. Type "Upland Bird Forecast" in the search box.