Birds Up, Habitat Down

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department says there is an increase in ducks and pheasants in the state this year, but some of last season’s hunting grounds will be missing this year.

Saturday is the opening day for the North Dakota residents’ hunting season for ducks, coots, mergansers and geese. The NDGF released a report last week that showed an increase in duck numbers based on surveys conducted over the summer.

“This year’s production was up from last year, and there are strong indications for a good fall flight this year,” said Game Management Section Leader Mike Johnson in an NDGF report.

Johnson added this year’s drought may have affected some duck habitats.
“Late summer has been dry and hunters should scout their favorite areas to check water conditions prior to the opener,” he said.

The Game and Fish Department based its numbers on surveys on breeding ducks in May and the young they produce in June. In the May survey, the NDGF found the duck index was 16 percent higher than last year and exceeded the long-term average of 112 percent. In the July survey, the brood index was up 110 percent from 2011 and exceeded the long-term average by 155 percent.

The agency also reported a rise in pheasants across the state as well. NDGF reported on Wednesday that total pheasant numbers statewide are up 59 percent from last year according to roadside pheasant surveys conducted in late July and August.

NDGF Upland Game Management Supervisor Stan Kohn reported the increase in the numbers is encouraging, but much like the ducks, the landscape has changed since last fall.

“A great deal of habitat has been either hayed or converted to cropland as Conservation Reserve Program acres continue to diminish,” Kohn said in a news release.

The number of observed pheasants was up 134 percent from last year’s count in southeast North Dakota, The number of broods was up 144 percent and on average nine broods and 88 birds were counted every 100 miles.

“Even though this district shows a large percentage increase, pheasant numbers were pretty low last year. With that said, hunters should see more pheasants than in 2011, especially after row crops are harvested,” Kohn said.

The regular pheasant hunting season runs from Oct. 13 to Jan. 6.