Wishing for warm weather
Those who love to hear the sound of pheasants busting from cover in the fall are likely looking at the 10-day forecast with great interest right now.
Hens that have been sitting on their nests in recent weeks are ready to welcome their newborn chicks into the world. The peak period for the hatch starts in the middle of June, and how good or bad the hatch is will have much to do with what kind of bird numbers there are this fall.
“This is really the time of year that makes or breaks the pheasant population,” Jason Strege, a wildlife technician at the Department of Natural Resources in Glenwood, said. “They’re designed to reproduce and if you get a real cold, wet spring, a lot of rain – that really tends to affect what your fall population is going to be.”
Strege said the most critical period for the chicks comes in the first week after they are born. Quality grassland habitat that makes for good cover is the first step in producing a successful nesting season.
From there, a lot of it is on Mother Nature. Chicks needs warm, dry weather in the first few days of their lives when they are most at risk for freezing to death.
“They’re super susceptible to basically hypothermia,” Strege said. “If we get a couple weeks in June of dry, warm temps, that’s ideal. It’s those long, cold, wet days that can really take out a lot of chicks.”
The pheasant population around the state the last few years has taken a hit, in part because of those wet springs. A pheasant’s life expectancy in the wild ranges from just 10 to 20 months. That’s why the population is so dependent on what happens through a few weeks in the month of June.
“If we get a good spring this year, I think there’s a good chance that there will be a good fall population,” Strege said. “But we have had that cold, wet spring in the past and it has definitely made an impact on the overall population.”
The good news is that pheasants are wired to reproduce and will do almost anything to make it happen. Once the chicks are born, the hens will be done for the year, even if none of those chicks survive more than a day or two. But if a predator destroys a nest, Strege said the birds will keep trying all the way through August.
“They’re just a reproducing machine,” he said. “That’s what they do. If a nest is destroyed in the spring or early summer, that hen is going to reattempt and it’s going to keep reattempting until it successfully hatches a nest.”
There’s a dangerous world out there waiting for them once they’re born. There are plenty of predators to avoid, but the right landscape and a little help from Mother Nature will go a long way toward determining the success of this year’s hunt.
“Their mortality in the winter is really high,” Strege said. “But like I said, they’re designed to make up for their mortality based on the fact they continue to keep pulling off a successful nest. If you get the right conditions they can recover very fast, and you need the good grasslands on the landscape to have a really strong population.”