Habitat & Conservation  |  04/30/2024

Nesting Season Arrives Across the Pheasant Range


The story of next Fall's hunting season begins Now

By Jim Wooley, PF Senior Field Biologist (Emeritus)

As the first mild breezes move north and spring arrives in pheasant country, nesting season quickly gets underway. It's this short time that writes the story of next fall's pheasant populations — as well as the story of your next hunting season.

A better understanding of pheasant nesting habits and can help landowners and public land users alike give the birds in their area the best chance of producing offspring. Which leads directly to more roosters in the bag come October.

Ringneck Nesting Habits

Pheasant nesting begins in April, depending on latitude (earlier south, later north) and other factors. Hens in poor body condition may delay nesting to recover after a long winter. A cold, late spring sets the nesting clock back as well, while a warm spring following a mild winter speeds reproduction. Adult hens with prior experience initiate the earliest nests. 

Pheasant nests aren’t marvels of construction.  A simple depression, loosely lined with dead vegetation and feathers, forms the bowl. Laying occurs every 1.3 days until a clutch of between 11 and 13 eggs is complete. 

Hen's reposition the eggs frequently, providing equal warmth until hatch occurs 23 days later. Chicks emerge, dry out and exit the nest alongside the hen just a few hours after birth — The entire process from beginning to end takes around 40 days.

Hens do not produce multiple broods, but when initial nests fail, they will commonly try to re-nest. This can be done up to three times. Radioed hens in Wisconsin produced an average of 1.8 nests per hen, and re-nests contributed 40% of brood production. However, clutch size and body condition decline with each attempt, and nesting success decreases as summer advances.  

Hens that hatch but then lose a brood seldom re-nest. Data from Minnesota and South Dakota indicate that 40 to 70% of hens that survive the summer successfully produce young, and half of all nests initiated are successful.

Ringneck Nesting Habitat

If there’s such a thing as magical nesting cover, it’s a mixture of tame and native grassland habitats, undisturbed by farming and livestock. The earliest nests occur in last year’s erect, residual vegetation (8-12 inches tall is perfect) found in CRP fields, fencerows, buffers, roadsides and waterways. 
Fox, raccoons, skunks, opossums, badgers, mink and coyotes all find easy pickings in narrow, linear nesting cover. Research shows nests are more successful in larger fields —over 20 acres ideally. 

Helping Hens: 5 Habitat Takeaways

Create serious winter food/cover complexes so hens come through winter in great shape.

Assure tracts of quality residual cover for early nesting.

Keep plenty of diverse native vegetation on the landscape; it is tops for nesting success.

Plant good pollinator habitat with native grasses and forbs; it is great for brood-rearing.

Manage all these habitats on a continual basis.