Wet nesting and brooding conditions take a toll on pheasant numbers in Pennsylvania
By Andy Fondrick, Digital Marketing Specialist at Pheasants Forever
Weather conditions have negatively impacted upland numbers in many states, and Pennsylvania is no exception to that trend this season. Even with the less than ideal nesting and brood rearing conditions, Pennsylvania’s dedication to strong habitat, especially in their Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas (WPRA), is putting birds back on the landscape.
Weather and Conditions
“Winter in Pennsylvania is always variable,” says Thomas Keller, wildlife research biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. “This past winter proved to be another wet one for the most part. Then Pennsylvania saw an extremely wet spring for the second year in a row.” The heavy precipitation through much of the first part of the year seems to have played a major role in pheasant population decline within the state’s WPRAs.
“Within the two remaining WPRAs we saw declines that we haven’t seen for some time, and although the habitat loss is always an issue, the scale of the decline points to the non-stop rain we had throughout the nesting and brood-rearing season,” says Keller.
Habitat, Broods and Counts
The Pennsylvania Game Commission works hard to ensure healthy habitat for upland birds. “Habitat crews work tirelessly year-round to create optimal upland habitat on state game lands,” Keller says. “We’re continuing to push towards a mix of native warm-season grass and forb stands to promote both food resources, as well as nesting and winter cover, for wildlife within field complexes.”
Even with this strong dedication to habitat in the state, heavy precipitation during the early months of the year made for tough pheasant conditions. “Although the Commission hasn’t conducted brood surveys or research on hatching success recently, looking at the overall population estimates within WPRAs from this spring, we’ve seen a decline within these areas.” Says Keller.
The Commission, with the assistance of Pheasants Forever staff and chapters, completes route and random point spring crowing count surveys each year. Using this information, paired with annual winter flushing surveys to obtain sex ratios, Keller and his team are able to form a very clear picture of actual population estimates.
“This spring we conducted six route surveys and 216 random point surveys,” says Keller. “Unfortunately, we saw populations on the decline, more than likely due to the wet spring and early summer conditions that persisted here in the Northeast.”
There is good news for those planning to hunt upland in Pennsylvania this fall. “It’s hard to pick just one location, but the Commission is working hard to make Blue Lake Marsh, State Game lands 280 in Berks County, a small game destination on the East coast,” Keller says. The Commission will be stocking birds on State Game Lands throughout the season, so he recommends checking out the states interactive map
for more information and timing.
“If you’re interested in seeing some hunting for wild pheasants in Pennsylvania, the Commission in coordination with Pheasants Forever is holding the 3rd annual wild pheasant youth hunt within the Central Susquehanna WPRA,” Keller says. “Last year in two mornings, 40 young hunters flushed 199 birds so make sure to get your application
Keller recommends following along with the states interactive map
, focusing on larger fields (50+ acres). After a few passes of a field, be sure to pay close attention to the brushy cover surrounding the field complexes.
“Once pheasants are pushed out of the fields, they seek any protective cover that can be found in nearby woodlots or fencerows,” Keller added. “Best of luck this season from the Keystone State!”