Shivering in bulky jackets, vehicles stalled on the side of the road, plastic shovels breaking… it is no secret that Minnesota’s harsh winter weather takes its toll in many different forms. Minnesota’s pheasant population is certainly not immune to the wraths of winter either, so how can a species that is not native to Minnesota survive this climate?
Pheasants are more susceptible to sustained periods of deep snow and ice cover on the landscape than they are the cold. Ice plugs up a pheasants nostrils resulting in death and can also make it nearly impossible for them to obtain waste grain from harvested crop fields. Deep snow cover for long periods of time poses a threat to winter survival for pheasants for the same reasons. Pheasants can survive a number of days without feeding but it’s the multiple large winter storms in a short amount of time that truly impact the population. A pheasant can burn a lot of fat surviving winter storms leaving them weakened come spring when a lot of energy is needed for reproduction and nesting season.
So what can I do on my property to improve winter survival and have healthy birds come nesting season?
Getting a pheasant through a Minnesota winter is challenging. It takes quality wintering habitat and available food sources. When looking to add winter cover to for pheasants there are a few different options. Wetland restorations can bring thick cattail cover to portions of the restored area. Cattails hold up to heavy snow and ice and keep pheasants away from blowing snow and wind. If there is functioning tile or ditches on the property a wetland restoration may be the best option for winter cover. Cattails provide quality winter cover far more quickly than a tree planting does. Although trees take much longer to provide good quality winter cover, plantings can be beneficial in areas where no wetland restorations are possible. Also utilizing current tree cover when designing a habitat complex is important. Shrub thickets, evergreen blocks and designed windbreaks provide the cover that is needed to protect pheasants during winter storms.
Winter food sources are equally important to the pheasant life cycle. Surrounding agriculture fields provide pheasants with a quality food source. Leaving a harvested crop field left untilled for winter keeps food sources abundant and easily obtainable for pheasants. Easy access to food means less energy less energy is spent finding food and body fat levels are easier to maintain. When a habitat complex is not adjacent to grain fields, food plots become beneficial. Stands of corn, beans or sorghum are beneficial options, but diverse mixes containing a combination of sorghums, millet, buckwheat, sunflowers, clovers and other legumes are ideal for cover and are easier for pheasants to consume. Whenever possible, food plots should be located next to winter cover. The closer to winter cover, the better. This reduces the amount of energy that needs to be spent traveling to food sources in the winter.
Surviving as a pheasant in a Minnesota winter is not easy but with a little help from us to put them in the best possible situation to survive, we can maximize populations in any given area.