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Pheasant outlook abysmal for 2013

By Jim Steiert

A recent survey by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists confirms what farmers working fields and anyone who travels country roads in the Hereford area and across the Panhandle knew already—there are darned few pheasants out there in 2013 and hunting prospects are paltry for the season opener on December 7.

“After drought conditions the last several years, there was rain over much of the pheasant range this year, but there was little or no nesting success due to no nesting cover growing last year. Rainfall did produce new nesting cover, though. If we have average moisture the rest of this year and next year, and that nesting cover is maintained, we should see a rebound in pheasant numbers,” says Todd Montandon, TPWD wildlife biologist from Canyon.

The same survey routes are driven by biologists to get a general idea of the relative abundance of pheasants each season. A total of 880 miles of survey lines are observed in 25 Panhandle counties with surveys ranging from the northern Panhandle to as far south as Lubbock, Hockley, Crosby, and Cochran counties.

The one bright spot in the 2013 survey was a survey line southeast of Hereford that proved the best of those checked. Montandon reported that line, situated in an area of some of the best habitat available this year, showed six birds.

How thin are this year’s prospects? Counts from recent years paint a stunning portrait of the decline.

“In 2010 we counted 1,208 birds over the 880 miles of survey routes. In the heart of the drought starting in 2011 bird numbers over the survey route were down to 126. That number plummeted to 25 in 2012,” reports Montandon.

How bad did 2013 prove for pheasants? Brace yourself. Across the whole of the 880 survey miles, only an abysmal 15 pheasants have been counted this fall.

“It’s weird. Back in the spring we were hearing lots of pheasants, and a fair number could be seen along area roads. Later in the year, all of those birds seemed to disappear,” Montandon said.

Dry weather is indeed a chief contributing cause in the pheasant population downturn here. Additionally, it’s not beyond possibility that some disease or parasite is a factor in the plunge.

Timely summer rainfall is a crucial factor in pheasant production as the colorful gamebirds need moisture for egg clutches to hatch, and to grow green habitat that provides insects crucial to the growth of chicks in their first weeks of life, as well as the cover that conceals them from predators.