Thirty-five percent increase rangewide means more nesting birds; production outlook hopeful

Each spring, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) conducts a survey of pheasants throughout their statewide range. As the mating season approaches, roosters increase crowing, and KDWP staff drive routes, stop at established stations, and listen for birds. Data from this survey, combined with the summer brood count survey in August, helps determine the outlook for the fall pheasant crop. A windy spring made surveying difficult this year, but last year's production combined with good winter carry-over appears to reveal an increased number of breeding pheasants over last year.

This year's spring survey period was April 25 through May 20, five days later than normal due to windy conditions that made hearing calls difficult. All 63 established routes were assigned for 2008, and 59 were successfully run. Forty-eight of the routes were completed in both 2007 and 2008 by the same observers.

Rangewide, the 2008 Pheasant Crowing Survey (PCS) index was 18.4 crows per station, up 35 percent from 2007. Overall, 40 of the 47 comparable routes increased in counts this year.

In the northwest, all 12 routes were run, 10 by the same observers as in 2007, and the crowing birds counted increased 36 percent from 2007. Nine of the 10 routes run by the same observer in both years increased. The Sherman County route sharply decreased but was not used to calculate regional change because this decrease was likely due to substantial irrigation-engine noise this year compared to no such noise in 2007.

In northcentral Kansas, all 12 routes were run, eleven by last year’s observers. Ten routes increased, one decreased, and the average count increased 40 percent over last year.

In the northeast, eight of the 10 routes were run and seven were completed by 2007 observers. Four of the seven comparable survey routes increased; two decreased; and one was unchanged.

In southwest Kansas, 16 of 18 routes were completed, and 13 of those were run by the same observer as last year. Eleven of the13 comparable routes increased, and two decreased, yielding an average increase of 37 percent over 2007.

In southcentral Kansas, all of nine survey routes were successfully run, and seven of those had the same observers as in 2007. This yielded an increase of 32 percent over last year. Five of the seven comparable routes increased, and two decreased.

"This spring’s increases in the PCS index appears to reflect the good production that occurred in 2007," says Randy Rodgers, KDWP upland game bird research biologist. "Much of the state’s 2007 wheat crop was set back about two weeks by a late hard freeze. This provided a longer time-frame for nests to hatch and chicks to grow large enough to evade harvest machinery. Although heavy late-May rains appeared to have hurt 2007 pheasant nesting in central Kansas, increases in the PCS index this spring, even in these areas, suggests the heavy cover that resulted from those rains provided good re-nesting opportunities last summer.

"And last winter did not appear to put unusual stress on pheasants," Rodgers adds. "Some areas of western Kansas currently have excellent breeding populations, but highly-variable moisture this spring will probably dictate 2008 production success. Parts of southwest Kansas are currently experiencing severe drought, and some areas in northwest and northcentral Kansas have had exceptionally heavy rains with large hail that has probably hurt pheasant production locally. Outside these extremes, most of the 2008 wheat crop has had good moisture and temperature conditions and has developed relatively slowly, all of which are beneficial to pheasant reproduction. Wheat harvest will also occur late in most areas, further increasing the potential for good pheasant production."