Brood counts down statewide

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The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department’s brood count survey released this week shows the persistent drought in 2012, a cold, wet spring in 2013 and a reduction in habitat have impacted the number of young pheasants in the state, including a 68 percent reduction in the Mobridge area.

The department’s annual brood count surveys the number of pheasants per mile as a means to track pheasant numbers over time. The actual population size is estimated after the pheasant hunting season ends, with additional information gathered from hunter surveys and a winter rooster-to-hen ratio survey. GF&P staff conducts the brood route survey each year on select stretches of roads around the state. All pheasants are counted along each route, with particular attention to the number of broods. In 2013, survey numbers came from 108, 30-mile pheasant brood routes throughout the state. Routes are surveyed from July 25 through Aug. 25 each year using standardized methods on mornings when weather conditions are optimal for observing pheasants.

The 2013 report indicates an index of 1.52 pheasants per mile, down from 4.19 pheasants per mile last year (see chart on page 2).

Nathan Baker the GF&P game manager for the Mobridge Region, said the trend in the Mobridge survey area (Walworth, Campbell, Corson, Dewey and part of Potter County) is similar to the trend statewide.

“I don’t think there is one thing that we can point to for the lower numbers,” he said. “Last year’s drought was extremely difficult on the young birds. The winter wasn’t too bad, but April snowstorms and cold weather in May may have made all birds more vulnerable through the nesting season.”

Baker said because of the weather nesting began two weeks late. If the first nesting attempt is unsuccessful (no chicks were hatched) because of weather or predators, the hen tries again. Because of the toll on her body during the first nesting attempt, the second number of eggs is smaller than in the first attempt.

He said one of the reasons the counts were as low as they were could be because the chicks are still small and keep to the cover.

“There have been some anecdotal reports of small birds seen along the roads,” he said. “Because of the unusual year, we will be watching the situation to see if that is the fact.”

Baker also pointed out that the surveys were conducted during the cool period in July and August. Crops were not drying down at the normal rate and the birds could have been staying in the fields.

Baker said habitat conditions play a major role in the growth of the population and the CRP land registered in South Dakota has dropped dramatically in the past couple of years. He said pheasants need cover to protect the eggs and young birds throughout the spring.

“There is probably without a doubt the bird numbers will be down this hunting season,” he said. “Hunters will have to work harder, but there will be birds out there.”

He said historically it takes a couple of years of good nesting conditions for pheasant numbers to recover after a drop in the brood counts. Lower brood counts in 1992 and 1997 still resulted in almost one million pheasants harvested in South Dakota each year. Since 1992, the state has added 350,000 acres of public access within the main pheasant range, expanding hunting opportunities.

GF&P officials noted that South Dakota would still offer the best pheasant hunting experience in the country, with more than 1.1 million acres of public land available for pursuing birds within the state’s main pheasant range.

The 2013 pheasant season opens Saturday, Oct. 19 and runs through Jan. 5, 2014. The youth pheasant season will run from Saturday, Oct. 5 through Oct. 9 and the resident only season Saturday, Oct. 12 through Oct. 14.

The 2013 Pheasant Brood Survey Report, complete with comparisons for different local areas, can be accessed at http://gfp.sd.gov/hunting/small-game/pheasant-outlook.aspx.

– Katie Zerr –

 

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