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News Articles

01
Dependent on the land

Proper habitat crucial to pheasant survival

By KAY LEDBETTER
kay.ledbetter@amarillo.com
Amarillo Globe-News
Publication Date: 10/31/04

STRATFORD - The dirty approach to farming leads to more wildlife, especially when it's done on a cooperative basis, according to wildlife specialists.

Gene Miller, wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Canyon, said pheasant and quail populations are dependent on habitat. And clean-tilling the land doesn't leave good habitat.

Miller joined others at a Pheasant Management Workshop in Stratford on Thursday. The workshops, also conducted in Floydada and Perryton, were sponsored by the Texas Cooperative Extension Service.

Ken Cearley, TCE wildlife management specialist, said the time is right to give some emphasis to pheasant hunting as landowners begin adding it to their revenue stream.

"We're holding workshops like this to encourage people to better manage their wildlife, both for their financial picture and the benefit of the wildlife population itself," Cearley said.

The only way to be able to produce enough wildlife is to manage the plantlife on the land that supplies all their needs, he said. By doing that, the landowner will have a population abundant enough and healthy enough to allow hunting.

Pheasants are adaptable and take well to farming areas, but they do need the proper habitat: brushy field borders, hay or grain fields or Conservation Reserve Fields near sources of water, Cearley said.

Pheasants lay their eggs, about one a day for 10 to 12 days, in nests on the ground and then the hen sits on them for 23 days. They are particularly vulnerable if there is not cover, Cearley said.

Even as adults, the birds do not fly long distances. They have short bursts of speed, but will try to run away from danger if possible, he said. Predators include hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, skunks and snakes.

The best defense, Cearley said, is a suitable habitat.

Miller called it do-nothing management.

Farmers leaving crops standing on the corners of the pivot irrigation circles, as well as unmowed roadsides and fence rows, provide cover for pheasant, quail and other wildlife.

Dave Cook, TPWD biologist, said 40 of the 56 counties in the High Plains and South Plains have pheasant habitat in them. He said they are currently conducting counts of pheasants in the counties to determine population. The counts end Nov. 15.

The trend line for pheasants in the area went up steeply from the 1970s and into the early 1980s, but from 1990 to the past few years, it sloped down almost as fast as it came up, Cook said.

"We have the information that tells us it's a habitat issue, rather than a population issue," he said.

The numbers are up this year and it is because habitat conditions are better with the rains, Cook said. He expects populations to be double what they were two years ago, although not anywhere near the peak levels of the 1980s.

The land changes, the advent of center pivot and going away from row water milo to cotton, has changed the habitat, Miller said.

He said in the mid-80s, the Food Security Act of 1985 was passed and with the advent of CRP, wildlife was not king at first, although it is getting better now.

"What happened in our country is row water decreased and where the land had been a checkerboard of crops and playas, the pendulum switched to vast areas of grass cover. The playa basins decreased and there was not as much food crops, greatly diminishing the ring-necks' cover," Miller said.

Today, the producer wanting a greater number of ring-necks must deliberately create the checkerboards of CRP, playas, managed road right-of-way, fence rows and center-pivot irrigation grain farming with cover corners, he said.

Even better, Miller said, is cooperative "community" efforts aimed at increasing pheasants. These tend to be more effective than isolated work on the individual farms.

This also might be a part of a community's strategy to increase hunter participation in organized activities that will benefit it economically, Miller said.

Neighborhoods or areas with CRP, a variety of cropping and some left over row water truly can build the pheasant capitals of Texas, Miller said.

"Panhandle farmers in prime land know how to grow ring-necks," he said. "They provide high quality, dense nesting cover knee to waist high along fence rows and leave some standing crop on the corners of the circles."


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