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It's All About Habitat
Pheasants were once king in the Cornhusker state, but the bird's reign has taken a large hit in recent years as good nesting and brood-rearing habitat - the undisturbed grass and broad-leafed plants so vital to pheasant production - has disappeared in many areas.
Given proper habitat, pheasants are quite capable of producing broods like this one.
For example, Nebraska currently has 1.2 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land that could provide this habitat, but most of those acres no longer offer what the hens need to hatch and raise their chicks. And there isn't as much of the tall wheat stubble in western counties that used to provide pretty good habitat.
Some people believe that pheasants are able to nest and raise young in brome-filled fencelines and road ditches, and they do do that occassionally.
But what pheasants need to reproduce successfully year in and year out are large blocks of nesting and brooding cover that are a mixture of grasses and broad-leafed plants. Ideally this cover is scattered across the agricultural landscape and is managed on a regular basis to provide the best possible cover.
At one time Nebraska's CRP land fit this description very well, but now the average CRP field is 15 years old - about 10 years past its most productive period for pheasants, 12 years past its prime for quail - and most CRP fields have gone without management since they were established. These large blocks of grassland now provide only marginal winter cover and little or no habitat suitable for raising chicks.
How to Fix the Problem
During their first few years, most fields that have been taken out of production, such as CRP fields, are diverse stands of grass generously laced with weeds, wildflowers and other broad-leafed plants, making them great places for hen pheasants to hatch and rear chicks. As these fields age, however, the grass crowds out the leafy plants and the number of pheasants produced in them declines each year after about the fifth year.
Fortunately, recent changes in CRP regulations now allow landowners to manage their fields at least once during the life of their contract. With some financial assistance and technical advice, landowners can use a few easy management techniques to turn old habitat into pheasant factories.
CRP Mid-Contract Management
These new changes are called mid-contract management and are required on new contracts. They can be used on older CRP fields, and cost-share assistance is available to support this increased management. Biologists and landowners have already seen great success in disking portions of CRP fields and encouraging the growth of leafy plants in the disturbed areas. Some simply allow annual weeds to sprout and grow, but by far the most effective strategy is to interseed legumes into the disked area.
When we revive a healthy mix of legumes, annual weeds, wildflowers and other broad-leafed plants in our state's CRP and other grasslands, it provides a tremendous boost to our nesting and brood-rearing habitat and provides ample winter cover.
Six Keys to Having More Pheasants
- Pheasants must have nesting and brooding cover or their population won't grow.
- The best nesting and brooding cover is a mixture of grasses and broad-leafed plants.
- Large blocks of nesting and brooding cover scattered throughout the landscape makes the best habitat.
- Nesting and brooding cover has to be managed on a regular basis to remain productive.
- If pheasants don't nest successfully, the best food, roosting and winter cover won't help.
- Help is available to landowners interested in providing good habitat.