Minnesota roadside pheasant count up 19 percent from last year

ST. PAUL -- The 2018 roadside survey for pheasants in Minnesota has shown a surprising 19 percent increase over last year. While the count is similar to the 10-year average, it is still 52 percent below the long-term average. "Given the April sno...
A rooster pheasant takes flight across a field. Forum News Service file photo

ST. PAUL -- The 2018 roadside survey for pheasants in Minnesota has shown a surprising 19 percent increase over last year.

While the count  is similar to the 10-year average, it is still 52 percent below the long-term average.

“Given the April snowstorms and heavy rains across a good portion of the pheasant range this year, it was surprising to see increases in the pheasant indices across so many regions,” said Lindsey Messinger, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist who coordinated this year’s survey. “It appears hens may have delayed nesting and chicks were able to tolerate the rain in most areas.”

Weather and habitat are the two main factors that drive Minnesota’s pheasant population trends. Weather causes annual fluctuations in pheasant numbers. Habitat is more important for long-term pheasant population trends. Conservation Reserve Program acres play a large role in providing habitat for pheasants in Minnesota. The program, covered under the federal farm bill, pays farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from ag production and restore vegetation.

This year’s statewide pheasant index was 45.5 birds per 100 miles of roads driven in the DNR’s August roadside survey. The pheasant numbers increased in all regions except the south-central region, which decreased by 36 percent from 2017 because of heavy rains and late snowstorms in the area. The highest pheasant counts were in the west-central, southwest and central regions where observers reported 48 to 65 birds per 100 miles driven.

Minnesota’s 2018 pheasant season is open Oct. 13 through Jan. 1. The daily bag limit is two roosters through November, and it increases to three roosters on Saturday, Dec. 1.