What really happened to all the pheasants?


December 18, 2006, 02:40 PM
Growing up and hunting Iowa in the '50s, pheasants were everywhere. Sometime in the late 60s or early 70s while I was away serving Uncle Sam, they seemed to have just disappeared in much of the state (northern part). Dad said it was because everyone pulled out the fence rows and plowed from horizon to horizon. Then they burned out the ditches. Loss of habitat. They couldn't hatch eggs on blacktop. Some blamed it on industrial chemicals. I have lived in a number of midwestern states in my life and it seems I have heard the same story. There used to be lots of pheasants when I was a kid but in the last 20 to 30 years there haven't been any around. If loss of habitat, why did it happen all at once in such wide areas? If chemicals, why haven't they come back again since things are a lot cleaner now than they were 40 years ago?

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December 18, 2006, 02:54 PM
Pheasants aren't native to North America, AFAIK.

You'll have to plant some.

We wiped out all the turkeys here a century ago. They were re-introduced some years back, and now they're all over the place. Once you drop the population below a certain point, you have to take extraordinary measures to get to a different stable population equilibrium.

Ask Nematocyst-870 about multiple equilibrium points. He knows more than I.

December 18, 2006, 03:04 PM
Pheasants weren't common in this area afaik but Quail were, no more. This is another mystery, I have heard everything from house cats, to fire ants blamed for it.

December 18, 2006, 03:36 PM
#1 reason is loss of habitat. modern farming with tiled waterways, no hedgerows, etc. most fields don't have enough cover to hide a sparrow.
followed by (in no particular order)
increased predation via coyotes, hawks, and nest robbers like coon, possum, skunks, and feral cats. (a result of the reduction in fur prices and trapping)
Bavk in the early and mid 70's we would bust pheasants in every ditch and only occaisionally see a deer. Now, I honestly think its easier to leave the house in the morning and come home with a deer (gun, bow, or vehicle) than it is to bag a wild rooster. Dang deer are becoming a nuisance. go figure.

December 18, 2006, 03:53 PM
I'll bet some states, like Virginia and Tennessee, are a little sorry they even reintroduced whitetails.

"Dan Gibbs, Wildlife Biologist, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

The oldest deer harvest records we have in Tennessee are from 1949. In that year, 113 deer were harvested in the Ocoee and Tellico Units of the Cherokee National Forest. In 1952, 171 deer were harvested statewide in 5 counties (Anderson, Campbell, Monroe, Polk and Union) and an additional 351 deer were harvested on 5 Wildlife Management Areas (WMA's). These WMA's included Andrew Johnson (Greene County), Chuck Swan, Ocoee, Shelby Forest (Shelby County) and Tellico. By this time, The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), then known as Tennessee Game and Fish Commission, had been stocking deer for 12 years. By 1985 (33 years later), 9,029 deer had been stocked in Tennessee and the harvest that year exceeded 60,000. During the 2003 season, Tennessee hunters harvested over 158,000 deer"

December 18, 2006, 04:41 PM
double post - sorry.

December 18, 2006, 04:42 PM
Dad said it was because everyone pulled out the fence rows and plowed from horizon to horizon. Then they burned out the ditches. Loss of habitat.

Dad hit the nail on the head here.

This is only part of the equation, though. Yes, the expansion of Midwestern farms is part of it, but in a broader sense, it's the "unification" of foliage type by region.

For instance, here in the Midwest, it's as your dad described. In the Northeast and most of the East, really, you've got vast swaths of forest which are not allowed to be logged and where, if a fire is detected, is swiftly put out. Forests all throughout the country are treated this way. This leads to an aged, overly dense forest where there is marginal undergrowth for small game and food - pushing said small game and food-seeking animals either closer towards extinction or towards civilization.

The same things have happened in places like New York State, where as little as 30 years ago hunting for grouse, partridge, and pheasant was a commonly enjoyed pasttime by many residents. Today, where there miles of multiple small farms - some corn, some wheat, some orchards - interspersed with tree lines and fields left to seed, there are new 'developments' of town houses and appartments, wooded areas which are not allowed to be "deforested", and farms converted over to single-family homes for urbanites with large yards.

You can compensate for this a little bit by having game production areas funded by the state, and the US has more of these than any other country to the best of my knowledge. If you've been to many, you'll notice how most of them have very diverse habitat: some reeds, some tall grass, some cut grass, some seeded corn, some trees, some brush, some young growth and some old - etcetera. Some have swamps and various other 'produced' land features which would not have been there naturally, but have been placed there due to the fact that it's a game production area. Such diverse habitats are necessary for a diverse, thriving ecosystem.

Even the American Indians would routinely burn down swaths of forest - as a matter of practice - in order to help encourage wildlife growth and diversity. Burn down a section of forest and you end up with a young area of forrest where generations of deer, pheasants, and other herbavores can eat heartily on low-lying bushes, pine buds, sapplings, berries, and moss. Let that forest grow into a towering canopy - like the Redwood Forest - and you will have precious few wild animals roaming about.

Larry Ashcraft
December 18, 2006, 05:54 PM
Fencerow to fencerow farming is likely the culprit. We used to hunt pheasants in northeastern Colorado (around Akron) in the 50s and early 60s. Then farming practices changed, and the birds all but disappeared. I notice many Kansas farmers leave strips of weeds between fields. I guess they realize that pheasants are a cash crop in Kansas.

Hailstorms can decimate up to 75% of the pheasant population, and a harsh winter will do the same thing to quail.

We own 35 acres of the Arkansas river bottom east of Pueblo. It should be fine pheasant and quail habitat, but we've seen maybe three pheasants and maybe three of four pair of quail in 12 years here. We have lots of turkeys and deer though. I suspect coyotes and foxes take their toll, as well as the drought of the past few years.

December 18, 2006, 06:21 PM
Same thing happened in Wisconsin where I grew up. 2 problems as I saw it. #1 The DNR stopped planting them
#2 I had never seen a coyote in my life in that part of the state when I was young. They are now everywhere and few people hunt/trap them.

December 18, 2006, 06:35 PM

Here, Fish and Game pays farmers to let some fields lie fallow.

Our hunting license fees at work.

Perhaps your state agencies should do something useful with your fees, as well.

We aren't exactly a pheasant mecca here, but the open fields help with other game birds.

December 19, 2006, 07:08 AM
In the 60's and early 70's there was a LOT of CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land. The US Gov't paid farmers lots of money to NOT raise crops. There was way more grain than the US could use and they were trying to support prices.

Now, farmers were not going to set aside their very best land. They set aside the lowlands, acreage along tree lines, etc. Stuff that's fantastic for wildlife.

I remember pheasant hunting around Lafayette, Indiana when I went to Purdue. This would have been 69-73. More pheasants in Benton County than anywhere else in the world. Endless miles of set aside land and thousands of pheasants.

Now it's all farmed and there are few birds. Not too many guys are going to let $5,000 and acre farmland sit idle so birds can use it. The land is so valuable that most of the lowlands have been tiled so the water drains off. What used to be brush covered lowland is now corn and beans.

December 19, 2006, 07:41 AM
Things are gonna get worse in the midwest for pheasants and quail. Locally we have 2 new ethanol plants in the works and the demand for corn has driven prices up. Farmers are salivating at the thought of planting corn anywhere and everywhere next spring. Anyone with field tile equip or a dozer is busy tearing out shelter belts, fences, and ditches. This is bad timing as much of the CRP contracts are expiring.

December 19, 2006, 03:47 PM
Here in Mn there is a lot of discussion regarding Pheasant decline as there is with Duck decline. We Just don't see the number of birds we used to in either case. Now a Mn Hunter practically needs to drive to South Dakota, Iowa, or Nebraska to hunt Pheasants. I hunt Canada Geese instead of Ducks these days because the Geese are like Sky Carp and the ducks are fewer and farther between.
Some of the decline as previously stated is due to a decline in habitat. Some of it is due to an Increase in natural ( Coyote ) and Invasive Species ( Feral Cats ) predation. Feral domestic animals preying on wild life is a problem and off topic here so please don't respond to my opinions on that.
Some of it alas is due to poor hunting practices and lack of respect for Game Limits by some hunters.
IMHO the three have created the "Perfect Storm" for the decline. Targeting the problems is difficult. Can you Imagine the out cry from the General population if an open season on Feral Cats was introduced? There is already an ability to take Coyote by any means necessary. But those poor little abandoned Kitty Cats? oh how could you be so cruel? I would imagine there is a feral dog population as well but not nearly as well publicized.
Most of the hunting population is unanimous in that shoot them and just don't advertize doing it attitude.
Some times I almost think the same attitude should be practiced with Game Hogs who break the law as well. but that is obviously not the right way to handle them.
Advocacy groups like Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited could give you a better response to this than my unscientific speculation.

December 19, 2006, 03:54 PM
I have 3 pheasants that walk around my house daily !!!! I also feed em.
All my buddys say "shoot em,We'll eat them" i say no because my daughter thinks they are the coolest thing. But i will blast them someday when the daughter is at school!!:evil: :evil: :evil:

December 19, 2006, 05:17 PM
Not too many guys are going to let $5,000 and acre farmland sit idle so birds can use it.

Man, if they only knew how much money some people are charging around here for pheasant hunting, on fallow and highly-profitable land that's worth many, many times that...

That's not public land or public-lease land, but still.

Upland bird hunting is supposedly one of the fastest-growing sports among the $100K+ male population in the US. I know, those high-dollar hunts may not help most of us, but anything that helps keep the sport alive is okay by me.

Steve Wynn
December 19, 2006, 05:39 PM
Loss of habitat is probably the most generally excepted major problem. The main loss is the fence row that was torn out for that extra 5-6 feet of perfect habitat.

Add another that has not been mentioned. DDT makes the eggs shell so thin that when the hen sat on the nest the eggs broke.

Unfortunately, pen raised and fed pheasants are too often way to tame to be afraid of most people and animals so the mortality rate is extremely high. Only a few will survive to breed in the wild.

December 19, 2006, 08:29 PM
Add another that has not been mentioned. DDT makes the eggs shell so thin that when the hen sat on the nest the eggs broke.
Except DDT was outlawed in the US a long time ago.

Coyotes actually increase bird populations, not decrease it. Reason is, the coyote's main prey are two of the wild bird's enemies....foxes and feral cats. It's been proven that coyotes increase bird populations.

It's all about habitat.

Man, if they only knew how much money some people are charging around here for pheasant hunting, on fallow and highly-profitable land that's worth many, many times that...

You go ahead and invest $5,000 an acre and see if it pays. Maybe it would.

Let's see...you need a 100 acre field. 100 times $5,000=$500,000. Payment would be about 1/2% per month, or $3,500 x 12 = $30,000 per year. Might want to re-visit that one.

FWIW...even crap farmland around here brings maybe $2,000. Do the math

There are landowners in S Dakota that seem to make hunting pay. Maybe land is a lot cheaper there. Dunno.

December 19, 2006, 10:43 PM
Where I grew up in Nebraska there were lots of Pheasants in 65-66. Walking a field would flush 25-50 pheasants. By 68-69 the numbers were down a LOT. I would walk fields that were planted just the same as previous years, and not see a bird. During the entire 69 season I only saw as many birds as I saw in ONE day previously. The only thing that changed was increased use of pestacyde and herbacyde. The fence row to fence row farming came later. But the birds were already loong gone.
I credit Monsanto and company with swinging a great killing scyth. It wasn't just the pheasants, other wildlife (sparrows-songbirds), rabbits, etc had greatly reduced numbers.

December 20, 2006, 01:50 AM

Loss of habitat, more predation... all play a part.
On a good note I've seen quite a few birds this year while out deer hunting.
Had a rooster go up at my feet in a chest high grass :what: field while pushing for deer with my wife. After she stopped laughing and I beat on my
chest to get my heart started I ended up getting a nice 3 pt. As she was walking over to see my deer, one went up at her feet :neener: , I got a
chuckle out of it!

When she got to me she told me she wanted to shoot the stupid pheasant with her .41 Mag. :banghead: !
Probably seen 14 or 15 birds in 3 days. :D

December 20, 2006, 06:33 AM
DDT makes the eggs shell so thin that when the hen sat on the nest the eggs broke.
You should read this (http://www.junkscience.com/ddtfaq.htm#ref6). There's a lot of inaccurate information about the effects of DDT that have been repeated often enough and loudly enough that everyone seems to accept them as facts now.

But just for the sake of discussion, even if DDT was a factor in the pheasant population decline, then the currently booming populations of peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and many other raptors would seem to indicate that the stuff has worked its way out of the system by this point.

December 20, 2006, 10:19 AM
I know what happened to the pheasant population-- I shot all of them:) My Senior year of HS (2000-2001) between my dad, my brother, and myself, we shot 99 roosters. They were all wild birds on private property. There are still birds out there, they're just not as plentiful. The advances in farming have certainly been the biggest factor in the decline of the pheasant population; however, the severity of the winters/springs is also a big factor. A long cold winter will kill off a lot of birds, and a wet spring will wreak havoc on the nesting. I suppose the lack of habitat makes the the weather a bigger facot. Also, domestic cats are on the rise. I have seen statistics that cats are now the number one predator of small game. This does not surprise me at all because they are everywhere! I had friends in HS that would cruise the gravel roads looking to "harvest" these little predators, and they were always succesful because there were so many of them.

December 20, 2006, 11:07 AM
Here in NY they were already on the decline, when I started hunting (35 years ago), they were already difficult to find. In part it was becasue most of the lands where they resided (corn fields, in particular) were mostly posted. It got so that shooting a pheasant was almost like getting a nice buck...cause for big exitement.

I haven't even SEEN on for years (although I know people who have/do, and there's still a season for them), which is a real bummer, as I liked nothing better that going out on a pleasant fall day, with my dog, and busting some (hard to find) pheasants. (We even have LOTS of coyote, although that wasn't intentional!)

The State DEC has had programs that have been VERY successful in bringing back deer (record deer takes for the past several years, and population is growing), turkey (something that we NEVER saw in my area when I was younger.), lake trout (which were almost gone), and other fish species. I wish they'd do the same with pheasant.

I think that loss of habitat was the big culprit, but many of the other factors mentioned also played a part, to some extent, They weren't able to adapt (as the deer have done) to living in habitat close to humans.

I've thought of "stocking" my property with them, but I only have 10 acres, and they'd probably move outside my area...but it still might help build up the populations around here.

December 22, 2006, 12:17 AM
In Central CA., Tulare Co., there used to be a zillion of them. Now they are no where around. Reasons: house cats being dumped in the country, poaching, loss of habitat. Between our little town and the county seat there used to be a 11 mile X 10 mile stretch of land we called the salt grass. there probably wasn't 20 homes in the whole area. (In1960) Now it is full of dairies. Lots of Yotes now, but no birds.

December 23, 2006, 08:11 AM
I read one time what the "ideal" habitat is for birds. It was different than I would have thought, but it makes sense because it's exactly what's in the state game management areas. Strips of grasses of varying heights bordering crop fields with water available. Ideally the grass strips were something like 50-100 feet wide IIRC. Endless expanses of grassland was not the best.

Around here, a lot of farms don't even have fence rows any more. There are plenty of crops, just few adequate grass strips. No place for the birds to winter when the snow comes.

I hunt my brother's farm. Kinda funny, cause we whine about the weeds he lets grow, but I guess if you think about it, that's why the animals are there

December 23, 2006, 08:26 AM
Well i limited out yesterday just kicking out the bale lot while feeding cattle . Down here ( southeast colorado ) the population is returning now that the vast wildlife deserts ( crp program ) is comeing out of the program . Virtualy all our crp is plowed under and back in production so the game is comeing back . Plus its near the high end of the rabbit cycle so cottentails are pletifull and tasty lol .

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