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Spring pheasant population up
Fall hunt forecast optimistic but rides on nesting success

By Jim Lee
For Central Wisconsin Sunday
Early spring surveys are giving Wisconsin pheasant hunters something to crow about.

The number of rooster pheasants heard during the spring mating season appears to be up in most areas of the state, according to Andrea Mezera, DNR wildlife biologist in Madison.

"Pheasant crowing counts look very favorable this year," she said. "In a few areas, the number of birds heard was down, but most of those areas are still in the range of last year's count.

"The 2003 counts were up from 2002, and the early estimates indicate there was another increase this year so the forecast is favorable."
Spring rooster pheasant counts are made by volunteers along predetermined routes on rural roads. Stops are made at regular intervals to listen for a specified time for crowing male pheasants.

The surveys provide a measure of wild pheasant activity and offer a clue as to the number of birds that survived the previous year's hunting season and the rigors of winter.

Since the DNR embarked on a program promoting habitat restoration and the introduction of wild birds rather than game farm stock, the state's wild pheasant population noticeably has increased. It is one reason motorists are spotting more pheasants along country roads.

While many local hunting groups continue to support the stocking of game farm raised pheasants, which usually are released prior to the October hunting season, the instincts of game farm birds are inferior to wild pheasants. Stocked pheasants seldom survive through winter or successfully rear a brood of chicks to maturity.

Tim Lizotte, DNR wildlife biologist at Oshkosh, said pheasant crowing counts in Winnebago and Fond du Lac counties "were up approximately 25 percent from 2003.

"The counts were up in those areas last year so fall hunting prospects for this year look good, but weather and brood survival will be critical."
Burt Bushke, project coordinator for Wings Over Wisconsin, provided results from spring pheasant surveys at 1,500 acres of habitat restoration projects undertaken by the organization near Princeton, Manchester, Markesan and Beaver Dam, which indicate the availability of roosters in those areas remains impressive.

A slight dip in pheasant numbers was noted by Keith Koskey, president of the Upland Chapter of Pheasants Forever in Marathon County. The group successfully instituted the stocking of wild pheasants in the northeastern sector of the county more than a decade ago. Located on the fringe of the state's agricultural zone, it is one of the northernmost areas in the state with a viable pheasant population.
"Our spring crowing count figures are down from last year, but I think that had more to do with the weather on the day we took our count," he said. "It was breezy, and we couldn't hear as well as we'd hoped.

"Still, our counts were good. We heard 1.99 roosters per square mile this year, compared to 2.06 roosters in 2003. During our winter flush counts and roadside spottings, we recorded 172 hens and 50 roosters for a favorable hen to rooster ratio of 3.5 to 1."
The Upland Chapter holds an annual wildlife seed giveaway, in which participants are given free seed in return for a promise to plant and not harvest the mix. This year's event, held May 2, drew landowners from 56 towns in 13 counties.

"We gave out 15,000 pounds of corn seed and 1,000 pounds of sunflower, buckwheat, millet and sorghum mix," Koskey said.

Based on the spring count, Koskey estimates the pheasant population in a six-town radius to be about 1,500. If brood survival is average, he expects the fall pheasant population in that area to top 4,000. Of that total, more than 1,000 should be roosters.
"We had more reports than ever of motorists killing pheasants this spring, mostly roosters," Koskey said. "The males expose themselves more at that time of year because they are chasing hens. But the number of birds killed on the road tells me there's a lot of pheasants out there."

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