The second most influential factor for the success of pheasant populations throughout their range is weather.
WEATHER & HABITAT DRIVE PHEASANT POPulations
Weather is another extremely important factor in determining pheasant numbers. Severe winter storms can potentially decimate pheasant populations overnight. Cold wet springs can claim an equally devastating number of newborn chicks who do not develop the ability to regulate their own temperature until three weeks of age. The direct effects of weather are obvious-less obvious is the indirect role weather can play on pheasant numbers.
PHEASANTS THRIVE IN MILD WEATHER
Generally speaking, pheasants do best in mild weather conditions. Mild weather is especially appreciated during the nesting period, as the amount of rainfall can greatly determine nesting success. Rain is essential in that it spurs vegetation growth, creates nesting cover, and attracts insects for new broods to feed on. However, heavy rains or flash flood events can wash out nests before eggs hatch or wash away the young pheasants before they can escape the rising water.
As the nesting season progresses into June and chicks hatch, mild weather remains key for pheasants. Chicks become susceptible to exposure in elements that are too cold or too wet. In addition, periods of extended drought can adversely affect cover quality and make insects and food less available.
Winter: The Toughest Season
A 2°F night with even a moderate wind of 11 mph creates a wind chill of -25°F. How can pheasants survive such conditions?
The arrival of cold and snow don’t necessarily mean a death sentence for pheasants. In fact, these hardy birds can do remarkably well in even tough winters provided quality winter cover is available. Winter habitat includes grass cover for roosting at night, trees and shrubs to loaf in during the day, and food. With adequate habitat, pheasants’ body fat content can be at its highest in January.
Pheasants essentially need to burn 25 percent more energy to survive during extreme winter conditions. As an example, the temperature inside a high-quality shelterbelt - ideal cover from the cold - can be 5°F warmer.
Finally, the same wind that creates biting wind chills can also be a blessing, as it blows many farm fields free of snow and uncovers areas where pheasants can feed.
INDIRECT WEATHER EFFECTS
Hot dry summers can impede insect production, depriving chicks of the protein they need early in life. Drought conditions will stunt vegetation growth, reducing the amount of cover on the landscape and leaving birds vulnerable to winter storms. Precipitation is essential but too much or the wrong form at the wrong time can be the difference between a great and poor pheasant reproduction year.
IS THERE AN ANSWER FOR ADVERSE WEATHER?
Although weather conditions cannot be controlled, providing critical habitat elements (nesting cover, brood rearing cover, winter cover and food plots) when conditions are favorable is essential to helping pheasant populations rebound after a tough year. Known for their prolific nesting abilities, pheasants have been documented in some states to double their population in a given year provided seasonal weather is optimal for nesting success.