When pheasant season ended Jan. 31, Zac Eddy had high hopes for this spring’s hatch, based on the number of birds he’d seen and the quality of the habitat. Now he’s not as optimistic.
“We got those snows and real cold temperatures in February and March that probably set the birds back,” said Eddy, a Pheasants Forever biologist in St. John. “Couple that with the ongoing drought, which is hurting nesting conditions, and it’s kind of a worst-case scenario.”
Eddy credited significant rains last summer over much of Kansas for helping some hens produce some late broods. The same moisture made cover conditions better than they’d been in several years going into the winter. He said the late winter cold and snows are especially hard on pheasants because they’re already physically stressed from normal winter weather. The late storms also come at a time when food and cover are probably at annual lows.
“You have already weak birds needing to get to spring plants and insect communities (in March) and these storms really set things back,” Eddy said. “With the snows and temps we got it may have actually killed some birds.” He added that late winter stress also means hens may produce fewer eggs and have less energy for raising chicks in the spring. The on-going drought also reduces the growth of broadleaf plants and wild flowers, which hens and chicks use for cover and where they find the insects young pheasants need for about the first six weeks of their life.
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Eddy said some hens are probably laying eggs now, and most clutches that hatch leave the nest in mid-June through early July.
“Mid-May to mid-June is our most important time for nesting,” he said. “That’s why we need moisture (earlier in the year) so we have good brood rearing cover. We also need that moisture to produce more insects.”
Though it’s getting late into the spring, Eddy said any rains that come in the next few weeks could certainly help, as did the July rains last summer.
Jeff Prendergast, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism small-game biologist, also acknowledged better residual cover this spring than the past two, and said some portions of northwest and north-central Kansas have gotten enough rains this year for good nesting conditions.
“At least the conditions mostly look better than they did last year across much of the state, “ Prendergast said. Last spring and summer Kansas’ pheasant populations were at or near their lowest point in about 60 years.