North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is up slightly from last year, according to the State Game and Fish Department’s 2014 spring crowing count survey. Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was up about 6 percent statewide from 2013, with increases ranging from about 2 to 9 percent depending on the region.
While the spring number is a positive indicator, Kohn said it does not predict what North Dakota’s fall population will look like. Brood surveys, which begin in mid-July and are completed by September, provide a much better estimate of summer pheasant production and what hunters might expect for a fall pheasant population. Last year, the fall population was down from 2012 because of rather poor production, but Kohn said low winter pheasant mortality, particularly in the southern one-third of the state, helped boost this year’s spring count. Another positive is that abundant moisture has provided for good habitat conditions heading into the prime nesting period. However, Kohn noted that since 2008, North Dakota has lost more than 2 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, much of it in the pheasant range. That means total nesting habitat in the state is significantly reduced from where it was when the spring crowing count index peaked in 2008.
The 2014 index is down about one-third from that peak. “Loss of CRP acres continue to reduce the amount of nesting and brood-rearing habitat on the landscape,” Kohn emphasized. “This and other grassland conversion is going to negatively affect our pheasant population in the future.” Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop. The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to previous years’ data, providing a trend summary.