BISMARCK - At the very least, there is a glimmer of good news contained in the latest pheasant spring crowing count conducted by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
According to Game and Fish, the recent survey concluded the spring pheasant population index is up slightly from one year ago. The actual number is 6 percent statewide, with increases ranging from 2 to 9 percent, depending upon the region surveyed. While the increase is not record-breaking, it certainly is much better than a decrease. Furthermore, increased crowing counts do not always equate to an increased fall population of pheasants.
"Really there's no precise relationship," said Stan Kohn, NDG&F upland game management supervisor. "It tells us an index on breeding males, nothing to do with nesting, hatching or brood rearing, and nothing on production until roadside counts begin July 20. The crowing count coincides to some extent with the number of breeding adults."
Kohn called the increase in crowing counts this spring "lightly surprising," primarily because of poor pheasant reproduction in the state in 2013.
"The hens just didn't bring off any broods," said Kohn.
Kohn cited fall harvest ratio numbers, one of the key indicators Game and Fish uses to determine the makeup of the state's pheasant population. Ratio numbers from last pheasant season revealed 3.64 juvenile birds to each adult rooster harvested. During good production years the ratio is generally 4 to 6 juveniles per adult.
"Anything less than 4 is not a real good production year," explained Kohn. "We knew there weren't going to be a lot of adult birds in the population. Our saving grace is that there was not a lot of mortality last winter. We're not sitting too bad."
It is believed that most pheasant hens in the state had nested and brought off broods just days prior to torrential rains pelting virtually all regions of the state. Relentless rain can have a devastating toll on young chicks and greatly affect the fall pheasant population.
"The southwest had up to 6 inches of rain. A little rain is not a problem, but we don't know what gully washers are going to do," said Kohn. "Unfortunately, the chicks were less than 10 days old. Certainly hens caught in low spots or not in real good cover can have problems. If the rain comes at a fast rate and she can't get all the little guys underneath her, then they can get swept away. It was looking kind of good until those rains hit. Now there's a lot of unknowns."
Kohn emphasized that pheasant hens in good cover can ride out most storms without substantial mortality to chicks. However, he adds, "it's a little spooky when mishaps come through and start trimming them down. You wind up with smaller broods at flight stage."
Pheasants are known to re-nest up to three times if necessary, but not if they have already hatched out a brood. That means any pheasant chicks lost to recent rainfall won't be replaced. The actual numbers of pheasants hatched this year won't be known until the late July-early August brood counts are conducted. Biologists are keeping their fingers crossed for this year's hatch and for future years.
"There's kind of offsetting positives and negatives," said Kohn. "One problem we know we'll have is that a lot of CRP is going to come out in the heart of our pheasant range. That's going to make a big difference."