Need help with a prescribed fire? Want more pheasants on your property but not sure where to start? We can help!
The Aldo Leopold Chapter of Pheasants Forever can assist with:
- Habitat assessment and management planning
- Prescribed burning
- Native grass planting
- Food plots
- Windbreaks and shelterbelts
- …and much more!
There’s a good chance we’ll even help pay for it through our private landowner cost-share program.
For habitat assistance, please contact our local PF Farm Bill Biologist:
Phone: (319) 217-3204
Pheasants Forever’s members are truly passionate about conservation and creating, preserving and restoring habitat that benefits pheasants, quail and other wildlife. That’s why Pheasants Forever provides the most efficient conservation model of any organization. PF’s unique model empowers local chapters with the responsibility to determine how 100 percent of their locally-raised conservation funds will be spent. Whether it’s through improving habitat, informing the public about land management or educating future generations of hunting enthusiasts, conservation is the underlying principle in all we do at the grassroots level of our chapters all the way to Washington, D.C. when we fight for strong conservation policy.
Creating, restoring and maintaining habitat is a constant battle. We invite you to join Pheasants Forever in our quest to ensure a country rich in natural resources and long on people willing to work to preserve them. After all, natural resources – pheasants, quail and other wildlife and the land, air and water on which they live – are our greatest resources.
Habitat advice from “The Habitat Organization”
The lazy month of September provides a well deserved rest for the hens. After the rigors of mating, producing 30 to 50 eggs before incubating an average clutch of 12, brooding young, and losing and re-growing feathers, the hens need a rest. In September she has reached her lowest weight (1.9 lbs) and her lowest body fat content of the year. Since the amount of body fat is a good indicator of overall body condition, the hen is in her worst condition of the year. Many believe that winter months are the toughest times for hens, but the reproductive process often causes more stress.
“Chicks Need Bugs”
Peak pheasant hatch occurs the first two weeks of June, and the new chicks need insects. Up to two weeks old, they will grow faster than at any other time in their life, 8% weight gain per day. To support such growth, their diet must be over 90% insects. The more insects you have, in general, the greater your chick survival. Hens do take their chicks to areas of greatest insect populations. Number one is weedy areas both outside and within crops. CRP fields with a diverse mixture of forbs (broad leafed annuals or perennials) increases insect production as well as weedy, second-year food plots.
Pheasant broods forced to range over larger areas have reduced rates of survival (corn or beans are an example, where insect biomass is low. Single species stands of native (eg. switchgrass) or cool-season grasses (eg. bromegrass) are also poor producers of insects. Adding forbs to these grasses increases diversity and insects. The value of cover for broods declines significantly as the stand ages. If you have your own plantings to do, diversify them and create a plan for regular disturbance (disking, grazing, haying, burning, etc.) that rejuvenates the cover. Rotationally managing a third of the field annually provides much better wildlife habitat overall. On older stands (like unmanaged CRP), renovate by light mechanical disking or burning, then reseed the area with legumes or native grasses and forbs. Chemical burn-downs of stunted grasses can also have short-term benefits. The annual weeds (i.e. forbs) released by burning, mechanical or chemical disturbance are a plus for pheasants; creating much better cover structure for nesting and more food for broods.
“Where’s a hen to nest?”
Look around the farm and roadsides. See any standing grass from last year? The hen pheasant is looking too for an idle grassy area. If last year was dry, or nearly every blade of grass was cut, where can the hens nest? Alfalfa fields may be the only cover available. But the alfalfa’s peak nutritional value is reached during the last few days of egg incubation, so swathing will destroy 90% of the nests. Thanks to the federal CRP program, many acres of residual grass are available to the hens this spring, and fewer hens will have to rely on the alfalfa fields. But as our CRP acres have aged without management, they provide little to attract a hen to nest. Mid-Contract Management preformed on CRP acres in the form of controlled burning, mowing or chemical treatment, followed by inter-seeding a legume mixture return these grasslands to optimal nesting and brood rearing cover. Contact your local NRCS office to learn more about cost-share opportunities to turn your CRP field back into a pheasant honey hole!
Hens prefer grass fields that 1) are 20 acres, 2) have been idle for less than 5 years, and 3) have last year’s dead grass standing upright. In South Dakota more hens will nest (per acre) in a 20 acre field than anything smaller or larger. As the idle stand ages, dead grass lodges and becomes too thick. Mow or graze the stand every 5 years to get rid of the dead litter. Mow or graze more frequently if the grass does not stand well under winter snows. Brome grass falls easily under snow, and must be managed more frequently than native grass which stands well under snow.
“Incubate a Full Nest”
A pheasant hen will begin laying one egg in the nest each morning. The hen will NOT start sitting on the nest until it is full (12 to 14 eggs). So for 12 or more days the eggs are not protected from the weather. Temperatures over 92 degrees or near freezing will kill the eggs because the hen is not protecting them. So why doesn’t the hen sit on her nest earlier? Skunks, raccoons, and foxes, that’s why! You see, spring weather that is too hot or too cool threatens nests only once every few years, but predators threaten nests every year. If the hen did sit on the first egg laid in the nest, that egg would hatch 12 days before the last egg laid. That gives a raccoon 12 days to find the nest and chicks. So the hen waits until all eggs are laid before starting to incubate, so they all hatch at the same time. Then she can quickly take the chicks away from the stinky nest before a predator can smell and find them.
Feeding Pheasants and Quail?
Feed Your Next Habitat Project Instead.
Feeding is a poor substitute for good Habitat—the long term solution to winter survival.
Why Not Feed?–When heavy winter snows hit and temperatures go into the deep freeze, questions always arise about feeding. This well-intentioned practice is not without problems, however, and may actually harm pheasants and quail:
- Many artificial feeding locations end up exposing birds to predation, especially those located near avian predator perch trees.
- Poorly-placed feeders may draw game birds away from protective winter cover, and this may actually add to mortality. On the other hand, placing food in areas very close to quail may spook the birds, causing them to relocate elsewhere and expend precious energy.
- Pheasants and (particularly) quail are less mobile in winter, and are unlikely to find food that has been placed away from primary winter cover.
Habitat is the Key to Winter Survival — Late January thaws have brought us a short break in the weather, but a continued tough winter may be ahead. The best thing to do now is translate this winter’s terrible situation into creating quality habitat for wildlife this coming spring. If increasing winter survival is your goal, establishing food, loafing areas, and heavy roosting cover within a short distance of each other should be your priority. Pheasants, and particularly quail, respond to harsh winter conditions by moving very little. So, since you can’t predict the tough winters, you need to make well-designed grain food plots part of your habitat management every year. Since normal winter home ranges are relatively small, you must think critically about food plot size and location. Food plots that provide both food and cover are an essential part of a game bird winter habitat complex. If you lack winter cover altogether, large food plots (10+ acres, sorghum) can provide great food and cover.
PF and QF also recommend establishing plum thickets and other brushy cover for covey headquarters and loafing areas where birds can sun themselves during the day. Hinge-cut cedar trees make exceptionally good brush piles for quail – the important thing to remember is that brush piles or shrub plantings should have bare ground underneath. Native grass stands (such as switchgrass) also provide outstanding thermal cover for night-time roosting. Start planning now to establish these kinds of covers next spring.
Feeding do’s and don’ts — While we do not recommend it, if you feel you must feed upland game birds, please pay attention to the following:
- Do not place feeders near roads—it’s dangerous to both pheasants and motorists.
- Do not place feeders where they will expose game birds to predation (near tall trees, etc).
- Place feeders next to good winter roosting and loafing cover (large cattail marshes, dense native grasses, shrub swamps, or heavy conifer shelterbelts) where birds stand a greater chance of surviving.
Pheasants and quail become dependent on feeders. Once feeding is begun, don’t stop until there are large, snow-free areas in fields.
With the first real breath of winter, pheasants begin to drift toward thicker cover. If shelterbelts, wetlands, idle grass areas, and crop fields are properly located, the pheasant need not move far to find protection. Ideally these cover types should be located within 0.2 miles of each other. The farther the bird has to travel, the worse the winter habitat.
While pheasants are finding the winter cover they require, the outdoor temperatures have fallen below the bird’s thermo-neutral zone. That is, they can no longer simply ruffle their feathers to stay warm….they have to start eating more food. In fact, they consume 33 percent more food in November than they did in October. This increased food intake is used to both stay warm and to produce body fat (for insulation and energy storage). While you and I can put on a coat or just stay indoors to stay warm, the birds have only one set of clothing and must eat more. Not only is the pheasant forced to use this increase energy intake to insure current survival through warmth, it must eat enough extra to insure future survival through fat production. These fat reserves though will prove beneficial when the first blizzard arrives.
The availability of certain foods has changed since last summer, and pheasants must change their food habits to meet their higher energy needs. The waste grains of summer have sprouted, rotted, or been plowed under. Grains like barley, wheat, and oats now constitute only 3 percent of the pheasant’s diet. The use of these grains is replaced by corn, since it is harvested from October to December. In fact corn attains its highest use in December when it is 77 percent of the bird’s diet. At this time, when birds need more energy to survive, a corn diet has a third more metabolic energy than a small grain diet.