Agencies work together to conserve wild pheasant populations

Collared pheasants were the most popular game species in Ohio in the 1960s, when their numbers were estimated to be between 4 and 5 million. (photo Pheasants forever)

When it comes to pheasants, the Ohio Division of Wildlife and Pheasants Forever, Inc. are probably best known for releasing birds that provide hunting opportunities. But behind the scenes, they’re working together – and with other agencies, including the Agriculture Ministry – to conserve wild pheasant populations.

“The state’s wild pheasant population from the 1940s to the 1960s was quite robust and probably numbered in the millions,” said Joseph Lautenbach, wildlife biologist for the Wildlife Division. “As agricultural practices, land use and land use have changed, pheasant populations have declined. Now our spring surveys suggest there are now less than 15,000. “

These surveys, carried out in April and May, are called “crow counts”. Biologists and other staff do them in April and May when roosters are trying to attract females with their calls. Surveyors spend about two hours before and after sunrise, covering two routes per day with six stops each. At each stop, they listen for four minutes.

“If a pheasant is in the area, you will probably hear it within that time frame,” Lautenbach said.

The 149 routes they rode last spring were mostly in the Scioto River Corridor in central Ohio and the northwest corner of the state, including Fulton, Williams and Defiance counties, where the largest populations of wild pheasants are found, he said.

It is probably no coincidence that the largest populations are found in these regions. Of the tens of thousands of acres enrolled in USDA programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, and the NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife partnership, the majority are in northwest and central Ohio.

Pheasants do best in open areas with both grassland and cropland, Lautenbach said. These programs help landowners get the right mix, with the right types of species, which also benefits pheasants and other types of wildlife.

Shared missions

Cody Grasser can attest to this. Prior to being hired last year as the Ohio State coordinator for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, he was a wildlife biologist for those organizations.

In more than 30 chapters with nearly 4,900 members in Ohio, the organizations have a sizable staff that includes 10 farm law biologists, an agriculture and conservation specialist, a prairie coordinator and pastures and a regional representative.

They work with the USDA, the state and national division of wildlife, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, cooperatives and agricultural societies to improve wildlife habitat and the profitability of farming on more than 20,000 acres. every year.

Their model of improving and increasing habitat “is based on these partnerships and these shared missions,” said Grasser. “They are helping us and we are helping them to implement their programs, most of which are carried out on private land and mainly within the farming community.”

“Any private landowner can get help with any wildlife or habitat project,” he said. “The biologist can help apply for financial assistance, help write the conservation plan, and work with the owner through the process of planting and establishing habitat.

These are mostly grassland habitats, he said, although they also do wetland restoration and tree planting. Using native species whenever possible, they plant areas with a mixture of herbs and flowers, clover, legumes and other species that provide shelter for pheasants and quail while they are raising their young.

The vegetation also benefits songbirds and other wildlife – such as deer and turkeys – as well as pollinators. For the latter, they use more species of wildflowers and target at least three that bloom in spring, three in summer, and three in fall.

Meanwhile, Jason Jones, the Grasslands and Grazing Coordinator, spends most of his time on the Working Lands for Wildlife program. It aims to improve the habitat of Bobolink and other wildlife, but also helps improve the incomes of farmers, especially beef producers.

The traditional hay and pasture fields are planted with cool-season grasses that have maximum growth in spring and fall, Grasser said. The working land program adds warm-season native grasses to the pasture mix that have maximum growth – such as tall, thick grasses – in June, July and August.

“These native herbs are overcoming the summer slump,” he said. “They are more drought tolerant, reduce the need for hay and increase calf weight gain, which benefits the operator. “

This month and next, some locals of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are running hunts for youth and veterans, as well as educational programs for new hunters. They will release pheasants for the hunts, said Grasser.

From the young season in October until November 25, the Ohio Wildlife Division releases more than 14,000 pheasants in 25 wildlife areas across the state.

In any case, the pheasants released for hunting are only males, since the state allows the harvest of two roosters per day. And they are only released in areas without any populations of wild pheasants.

Farmed birds can attract predators like hawks and owls because they are not used to avoiding them, and no one wants to run the risk of chickens being accidentally harvested.

Additionally, farmed birds have a very low survival rate: less than 10% of those released are expected to survive beyond 30 days, Lautenbach said.

Pheasant life cycle

Pheasants live an average of one to two years in the wild, a statistic that has not really changed over the past 50 years, he said. Those in Ohio and northern areas are of course more vulnerable to harsh winters.

In Ohio, female pheasants begin nesting in mid-April, making a “nest bowl” from grasses left over from the winter, adding a few feathers for good measure. They lay one egg per day, on average eight to ten in total. The eggs take 23 days to hatch.

The young can fly short distances about 10 days after hatching, longer distances at four to five weeks. They stay with their mother for about two months, moving from dense cover of the nesting area to more open areas with flowering plants. There they can find insects – caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, etc. – which they need for their proteins.

In the fall, they add seeds and wild fruits to the insect mix. The winter menu consists mainly of seeds and vegetation.

Financial benefits

Lautenbach is a member of the board of directors of the National Wild Pheasant Conservation Plan. The plan deals with “what pheasant habitat is, how we can improve it and how we can add more,” he said.

It also examines the financial benefits of pheasant hunting, especially for rural communities, and how more opportunities can be provided.

The average pheasant hunter in North America spends about $ 1,500 a year on hunting, of which about half is on meals, hotels and equipment on a hunting trip, Lautenbach said.

He and Grasser pointed out that landowners can receive incentives from more than one program, for more than one purpose. For example, an owner involved in one of USDA’s habitat programs may also receive income from a program designed to increase hunting opportunities, such as the New Access Program for Landowners and Hunters. from Ohio.

Both types of programs appear to have an impact on the welfare of wild pheasants. “The population decline has slowed down; it’s not as fast as it used to be, ”said Lautenbach. “This is the good news.”

More information

Below are some links for hunters and those interested in conservation programs.


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