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Lack of habitat primary factor, but much of the state offers excellent pheasant hunting

PRATT — With Kansas annually ranking in the top three states in the nation for pheasant hunting, hunters often ask why this popular game bird cannot be found in southeast Kansas. Like all wildlife, pheasants need four things to survive: food, water, cover, and space. If these things are not present in the proper mix for an individual species, it will not thrive. But sometimes it can be more complicated than that.

"The most obvious reason pheasants don't occupy southeast Kansas is inadequate habitat caused by too many trees, too little high-quality nesting or brood-rearing habitat, intensive agriculture, and urbanization," says Jim Pitman, small game coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP). "These problems have worsened over the last 30 years in southeast Kansas and have also been detrimental to pheasants in other parts of the country. However, even before these problems intensified in southeast Kansas, pheasants were mostly absent. Some areas in southeast Kansas and other places outside the pheasant range seem to have suitable habitat, so habitat inadequacy probably isn't the sole explanation."

Pitman believes that soil-mineral deficiency may be another factor that influences pheasant distribution.

"Calcium, which is important for eggshell development and adult survival, may be deficient in non-range areas," he explains. "Soils in the central, northeast, and western portions of the state are naturally high in calcium. Southeast Kansas soils are naturally low in calcium. While the exact mechanism by which this may limit pheasant distribution is complicated and not entirely clear, mineral deficiencies may play a role in explaining why pheasants are absent."
Another possibility is higher spring temperatures and humidity in the southeast.

"Research has shown that egg hatchability declines with increasing temperature and humidity," say Pitman. "When the temperature holds at 85 degrees and humidity at 80 percent for extended periods, hatchability drops to around 40 percent. Southeast Kansas certainly has much higher springtime temperatures and humidity than parts of the state where pheasants are common."

So while food, water, cover, and space are critical for wildlife survival, other factors such as mineral deficiencies and weather have combined to prevent pheasants from establishing in southeast Kansas. But hunters need not worry; pheasant hunting should be excellent in other parts of the Sunflower State, and the winter of 2009-2010 promises many good days afield for the avid bird hunter.

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