The native grasslands of the Great Plains serve as habitat for numerous wildlife species, but the intensification of agricultural practices and the subsequent alteration of the landscape has drastically reduced and fragmented remaining grasslands. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has helped to mitigate habitat loss and slow the rate of population decline of grassland dependent species, but funding for, and subsequent enrollment in, CRP is declining. Pheasants are an economically important species that responds well to CRP, but as acres of CRP decline, it is becoming increasingly important to develop new approaches to improve and stabilize pheasant populations.
GoalsBecause pheasants are relatively short-lived, successful reproduction is paramount to population growth. The goal of this project is to better understand how management actions (e.g., habitat enhancement programs, harvest management) influence pheasant reproduction and subsequently pheasant population growth. We employed an individualistic approach that considers behavioral and life history responses to management actions as a means of understanding pheasant population dynamics.
Radio-telemetry was used to track hen pheasants in the breeding seasons of 2012 to 2014 within Nebraska's Southwestern Focus on Pheasant Area, a site intensely managed to boost pheasant populations. Hen nesting site preferences and reproductive strategies (e.g., clutch size, egg size, and incubation patterns) were assessed in response to variable land-cover, hunting regimes and habitat enhancement. Over three years we captured nearly 100 hen pheasants on more than ten study sites. We measured many aspects of reproductive conditions, including collecting blood from roughly 60 hens to assess baseline and elevated cortecosterone levels, an indicator of stress. We found and monitored almost 70 nests, and collected nearly 300 samples of invertebrate food resources in brood rearing habitats. Work on this project is on-going.