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Article Published: Tuesday, July 13, 2004

charlie meyers
Nest news optimistic for quail, pheasants
By Charlie Meyers
Denver Post Staff Writer

Ed Gorman isn't ready to count his chicks, even after they're hatched.

But to Colorado hunters starved for good news, prospects for an improved nesting season in the primary pheasant country in the northeast part of the state give some reason to hope.

"All in all, we're cautiously optimistic," said Gorman, primary game bird biologist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

With a strong winter carry-over from a solid population of last season, there seems ample reason for a positive outlook. Crowing counts, taken each spring along established routes, indicate increases at every turn, some of them significant. Clearly, lots of adult birds sailed through a mild winter, ready to make nests.

But the key to overall pheasant numbers is breeding success. In a typical year, hunters who turn out for the season opener - Nov. 20 this year - will find at least 75 percent of the population were hatched the previous spring.

And in northeast Colorado, that's where the rub, and suspense, comes in.

"We had a pretty dry early spring and the wheat was very short," Gorman said of a key element in most pheasant-producing areas of the Great Plains.

Fast-growing green wheat is a favored, and highly beneficial, component in nesting success. Hen pheasants find refuge from predators in the thick cover; chicks are out and on the run by the time harvest occurs in early July.

When the wheat crop falters or fails, hens turn to more isolated weed or grass cover, where they are more susceptible to predation, or, worse, to dry wheat stubble from the previous year. Under normal crop rotation, farmers then disk the old stubble during May and June, destroying many nests.

While Gorman received reports of new chicks both in late May and early June, he reserves his opinion about overall production until district wildlife managers start to move through the territory in late August and when dove hunters hit the fields in early September.

"That's when I find out whether people are seeing pheasants or not," he said.

Gauging this overall weather sheet, the printout goes something like this: Dry conditions throughout the winter and early spring stunted wheat crops in many places, causing questions about nesting success. Heavy moisture in June spurred rapid weed growth, bringing bright prospects of dense cover for fall hunting and a hedge against storms next winter. At the same time, a week of wet, cold weather during June may have hampered chick survival.

Little wonder Gorman isn't prepared to make any flat predictions about overall nesting success.

The veteran biologist, who keeps watch from a station in Sterling, speaks more positively about quail.

"Presumably, numbers have increased from last year because of the mild winter," Gorman said. "Cover along the river already is thick because of the June rain. It should be a good year."

Biologist Jeff Yost also reports good quail survival and prospects in southeast Colorado, where pheasant prospects are deemed as good or better than last year.

"We have pockets where we expect to have plenty of birds and others with low density," said Yost, describing a condition common to the southeast. "Overall, I think things will be pretty good."

In a region plagued by recent drought, pretty good sounds like good enough.

Listen to Charlie Meyers at 9 a.m. each Saturday on The Fan Outdoors, radio KKFN 950 AM. He can be reached at 303-820-1609 or

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