Outdoors almanac: Rain hampers bird numbers
Doug Smith, Startribune
June 12, 2005 ONOT0612
The frequent rains that have washed over Minnesota recently probably are hurting the state's pheasant and turkey populations.
This is peak pheasant-hatching time in Minnesota, and newly hatched chicks are vulnerable to wet weather.
"The rainy weather is likely having a negative impact on pheasant reproduction now," said Kurt Haroldson, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist at the agency's office near Madelia, Minn.
Young chicks can't generate their own heat, so they are prone to sickness or death when they get chilled, Haroldson said. Nests also can get flooded or washed away during wet periods, which also affects reproduction.
Hens will re-nest if they lose their nests before the eggs hatch, but those re-nesting efforts often result in fewer chicks. Haroldson said biologists have seen standing water on some pheasant nesting areas monitored in LeSueur and Rice counties.
Cool, wet weather also hampers production of insects, food that pheasant chicks depend on. Rainfall this spring is well above normal in many areas of the pheasant range.
Poor pheasant reproduction, of course, means fewer roosters for hunters next fall. Officials won't know what impact the spring weather has had on pheasants until they do the annual roadside survey in August.
But Haroldson said it's clear what pheasants need now: "More sunny days."
Newly hatched turkeys have the same reaction to cold, wet springs: Some die. For evidence, look no further than the results from this spring's turkey hunt.
After 10 consecutive years of record spring turkey harvests, hunters this spring shot fewer birds than last year -- despite 4,500 more permits offered this year by the DNR. The culprit: fewer birds to shoot. There was poor reproduction last spring due to cold, wet weather -- and crummy weather this spring also hampered hunters.
The kill was 7,723 gobblers, down from 8,434 last year. A prime indicator for the poor reproduction last year: Only about 10 percent of the birds shot were jakes -- young males. Usually they comprise 25 percent or more of the harvest, said Bill Penning, DNR farmland wildlife program leader.
"We had a cold, wet spring last year right at the wrong time, just as they were hatching," he said.
It's uncertain how much impact the recent rains have had on turkey reproduction this spring, Penning said. "This cool, wet weather probably isn't helping."
Grouse like it dry
Ruffed grouse chicks, which also hatch in early June, also are susceptible to cold, wet weather, but so far wildlife biologists say the spring rains shouldn't have much impact on the population.
"I don't think it [the weather] has been severe enough to have that big of an impact," said Mike Larson, DNR wildlife biologist in Grand Rapids. "It hasn't been too cold."
Waterfowl chicks also can succumb to cold, wet weather. The good news is that warmer temperatures have accompanied the recent rains.
South Dakota also has seen lots of rain recently, which may have affected pheasant reproduction in some areas, particularly the southeast. But Tom Kirschenmann, pheasant biologist for the Game, Fish and Parks Department, said it's difficult to assess any impact to pheasants yet. Some chicks already have hatched, but the hatch's peak is just beginning, he said. And there is an upside to the recent rains: Nesting cover has improved, and mowing likely has been delayed.