Shared from the 2017-05-07 The Kansas City Star eEdition

Blizzard’s impact on pheasants uncertain

Jeff Prendergast knows the rare, spring blizzard that dumped more than 12 inches of snow over much of western Kansas could have been disastrous to the region’s pheasant population.

He also knows it might have done the birds a huge favor.

“There are a lot of unknowns at this point,” said Prendergast, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s pheasant biologist. “We have so many things going on out there right now. But I’m pretty optimistic we can come out of this OK.”

Negatives include hens incubating eggs could have been covered by the heavy snow and suffocated. Another problem could be if the heavy snow killed thousands of acres of wheat that was vulnerable as it started to grow stems and heads of grain. Many hens nest in wheat, much of which could get disked under, so corn, milo or soybeans can be planted.

The snows melted fast enough Prendergast isn’t worried about pheasants starving.

While the timing of the snows was disastrous for many wheat farmers, it could have been worse in terms of pheasant reproduction. The biologist said now is just the beginning of when hens are starting to incubate their clutches of eggs. Many hens will re-nest if their eggs have been destroyed, or frozen in cold temperatures. That could especially be the case this spring.

Prendergast referenced research that showed hens are more likely to renest when there’s plenty of moisture, like this spring, compared to when conditions are dry and the birds are physically stressed. Hens that lost clutches in destroyed wheat fields should find good alternative nesting areas, thanks to the added moisture, such as in thick, weedy and grassy fields.

Such huge amounts of moisture are also better now than when the chicks start hatching in early to mid-June. Cold, heavy rains then can kill chicks. Hen pheasants won’t try to re-nest after their eggs have hatched.

In some areas there have been reports of some large numbers of doves, other songbirds, squirrels and rabbits found dead when snows melted. Game wardens Jacob Greene, of Scott City, and Zerick Kuecker, of Deerfield, have received no reports of people finding dead pheasants in fields. Both have seen some birds on their limited travels since the snows.

Prendergast said he didn’t have too many concerns with quail.

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