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South Dakota’s pheasant range has received only about 50 percent of its normal snowfall this winter, which is good news for the nation’s largest pheasant population. (Pheasants Forever)

Pheasants getting break this winter

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Despite a mediocre 2013 pheasant hunting season in South Dakota, 2014 is shaping up to be better for pheasants and their habitat. Two factors are of critical importance to maintaining healthy pheasant populations: weather and available habitat.

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While these elements affect pheasants year-round, they’re highlighted annually as the harshest season comes to an end and pheasants begin their next reproductive cycle.

A tough winter can result in adult bird mortality, but the key is getting healthy and strong hens into spring nesting season. Healthy hens lead to larger clutches of eggs, which adds up to more chicks headed toward autumn.

The winter of 2013-2014 was toughest on pheasants and pheasant habitat in the Great Lakes region, where heavy snows and bitter cold made for a long winter that continues despite the calendar turning to spring.

Meanwhile, the Dakotas experienced a relatively mild winter, while the lack of snow accumulation across parts of the Great Plains has biologists concerned, the moisture being needed to restore habitat conditions following three years of drought.

South Dakota’s pheasant range has received only about 50 percent of its normal snowfall this winter, which is good news for the nation’s largest pheasant population.

“Pheasant winter survival is higher when there is minimal snow cover such as this past winter,” said Travis Runia, lead pheasant biologist with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. “The winter has not been stressful to pheasants this year and we expect that survival was higher than normal. Our population usually increases after winters with below normal snowfall, given nesting conditions are also favorable.”

Runia notes a very severe blizzard did occur in the western quarter of South Dakota, which likely resulted in high mortality of pheasants outside their primary range. But in the rest of the state, cattail sloughs and shelterbelts are providing excellent winter habitat due to the limited snow cover.

-- Source: Pheasants Forever

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