Hot on the heels of a strong report by the North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F) showing a significant increase in 2022 upland hunter participation and overall success compared to the previous autumn, early indicators attained in the recently-completed rooster pheasant crowing count point to a jump of around 30 percent, when compared to the tally of birds heard in the spring of 2022. Conducted over the past six weeks, utilizing 100 historic routes of 20 miles throughout the state traveled by various
NDG&F personnel, this season’s survey also benefitted from near ideal conditions of calm mornings, according to NDG&F Upland Game Biologist RJ Gross.
Used to determine overwinter survival of rooster pheasants, crowing count surveys provide a bootstrap estimate of how pheasant populations fared from one year to the next and in comparison to the long term averages. Those latter numbers are determined based on more than 60 years of data collected by the agency as biologists and other employees conduct the process where they stop every two miles on
their route to listen for two minutes and mark down the number of rooster calls they hear around dawn.
Statewide, the count was up an average of 3.4 crows per stop with areas in the southwest portion showing the greatest increase, going from about 14.5 last year to 19.5 this year. “It was good news - somewhat surprising news considering the winter that we had - but we had an increase of 30 percent more crows this year compared to last year,” Gross details, adding “statewide our average crows per stop was 14.6. Last year it was 11.2. Looking back comparing this year’s data, we’re about back to what we were before that 2021 drought, but obviously we’re not back to where we were
Along with the increase in crows year-over-year, NDG&F personnel also observed improved quality of habitat coming out of winter as ample moisture on the ground helped spur the growth of lush, thick prairie grasses which will likely aid in the pheasant and grouse nesting process and help to conceal chicks from ground and avian predators once the young birds hatch. Additionally, the quality habitat and abundant moisture has helped establish a population of insects, slugs, and other invertebrates which pheasant and grouse chicks rely upon for an early protein source to develop feathers and grow
“It’s lush, green, and obviously with 100 inches of snow, we had good residual moisture in there for everything to grow up; it’s looking really good,” Gross relates regarding the grass in the ground, “the conditions, the nesting cover is great. There should be plenty of bugs for the chicks, my windshield is full, I’m swatting mosquitoes when I’m out in the yard. So it’s looking really good,” he adds pertaining to the forage base for the pheasant chicks which typically hatch this time of year.
Final results of the spring crowing count tallies will be released by the NDG&F in the coming days, coinciding with the peak hatching time for pheasants in the state. The agency will begin its roadside brood count surveys for a 40-day period starting in late July and running until the end of August where the same routes will be utilized as surveyors check for those growing birds and adult pheasants to help hunters further gauge how the fall’s pheasant hunting may shape up.
By: Nick Simonson