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Pheasant numbers will depend on spring weather and continued help

A rooster pheasant in the North Dakota snow, provided by Craig Birhle of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Forum Communications Co.

Pheasants are hardier than they let on to be.

Though this winter, that tenacity has been put to the test as forces of nature have made things quite dicey.

"It's been tough on them and I don't think it's a surprise to everyone," said Scott Roemhildt, the Southern Minnesota field representative for Pheasants Forever.

He went on to say what has been said quite a bit over the last few months: It's not the huge amounts of snow we got over the holidays and into January that hurts survival rates, it's the bitter cold and lack of shelter that does pheasants in.

"Pheasants don't often starve in Minnesota," he said. "What's getting them is freezing. They can't consume enough energy from what they are losing."

The birds benefit greatly from winter cover because they don't have to face the harsh blizzards that can cause them to suffocate or freeze to death.

Lack of cover also means pheasants are out in the open and exposed to more than the weather.

"The other thing we're losing pheasants to is predators. Hawks and fox love when the pheasants are on the roadsides," Roemhildt said. Birds in road ditches are also more apt to be hit by vehicles when trying to cross those roads.

But as the bitter cold slacks off and snow melts, the pheasants will be able to better survive. Roemhildt cited a study that notes pheasants use one-third less energy to survive in March as they do in January.

So is there anything we can do now to help pheasants?

"If people have been feeding pheasants, they should keep feeding them. It's important not to stop," said Roemhildt. "The big thing is to focus on developing good habitat and winter cover. We've got less grass. The more cover we have for the pheasants, the better survival rate they are going to have."

The emphasis on habitat is important, not just for winter survival. For the pheasant population to grow, nesting cover needs to be maintained and increased to ensure brood survival.

"As we get into nesting season, one thing that will help is delayed mowing during nesting season. Delayed mowing until July or August to help with the nesting. That's probably one of the best things," Roemhildt said.

Improving habitat

Roemhildt's area of responsibility includes the counties of Renville, Redwood and Yellow Medicine. He said there will be a few habitat projects going on in the coming year.

In Renville County, there will be an expansion at the Sacred Heart Waterfowl Production Area and there area plans for more habitat expansion along the Minnesota River in Redwood County. Pheasants Forever is also looking to expand the Claire Johnson Wildlife Management Area in Yellow Medicine County.

"We've got both restoration and acquisition projects going on to improve existing wildlife management areas or to expand those complexes," he said.