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Drought and Upland Game Birds

Drought and Upland Game Birds

by Daryl Fisher, Biologist
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism
Garden City, Kansas

The extended and expansive drought experienced in parts of Kansas has had a significant effect on pheasant and quail populations this year. There are probably very few young birds from this year’s reproductive effort in some parts of the state. Poor or nonexistent wheat crops in the early spring would not have provided much in the way of suitable nesting habitat. Chicks that did hatch would have starved to death in areas where it was so dry that broadleaf plants and weeds did not sprout or died due to drought. If there were few live weeds, then there would not have been enough small insects that live best on broadleaf plants that chicks must have to survive and grow. Vegetation in southwest Kansas really did not green-up until late summer, long after it was needed by chicks that normally hatch in late spring and early summer.

So, what is a landowner to do to help get more birds on the farm again? Should he or she prevent anyone from hunting during the upcoming season? Preventing hunters from pursuing pheasants and quail will not really do much to speed the recovery of pheasant and quail populations following something like a drought. Most hunters will not continue hunting very long if they don’t have much luck finding birds. Numbers of hunters in the field will decline rapidly after opening weekend without the amount of success they think is needed to keep up their interest.

The best way to help upland birds build up in population (short of making it rain again) is to manage some of your land to provide the habitat necessities birds need, so that when nature does decide to cut loose with a more “normal” amount of precipitation, the habitat will be there. Nesting cover can be provided by good springtime wheat crops or native grass-type plantings, such as Conservation Reserve Program with a significant amount of last year’s growth still present in the spring. Brood cover is best provided with some “weedy” areas with broadleaf plants that allow maneuvering room and insects the chicks can catch themselves. Winter cover is provided by areas with sturdy vegetation that will stay standing in the winter to provide thermal insulation and is near a winter food source such as waste or leftover standing grain, as well as thick weedy areas with plenty of weed seeds available.

For more information on wildlife habitat or natural resources conservation, please contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office or conservation district office. The office is located at your local U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center (listed in the telephone book under United States Government or on the internet at offices.usda.gov). More information is also available on the Kansas Web site at www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov. Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_Kansas. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

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