Ring–necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) are a culturally and economically important game species. Across the Midwest agroecosystems have historically served as important habitat for pheasants, but the intensification of agricultural has significantly altered the landscape resulting in a long–term decline in pheasant populations. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has helped to mitigate habitat loss and slow the rate of population decline, but enrollment in CRP is declining. Given the importance of pheasants to Nebraska, managers are interested in developing programs that will continue to support pheasant populations while ensuring hunting opportunities.
In southwest Nebraska, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission intensively manages for pheasant habitat and pheasant hunting opportunities with the goal of producing the best pheasant hunting experience for the most hunters. Starting in 2012 we began working with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to monitor pheasants and pheasant hunters in the region to better understand how pheasants use managed agroecosystems, how hunters perceive and use public access, and how pheasants and pheasant hunters interact.
Since the start of the project we have captured and radio collared hundreds of pheasants and recorded thousands of locations on where pheasants are roosting, eating, loafing and nesting. At these locations we have collected information on vegetation characteristics, climatic conditions, and food resources to understand the ecological needs of pheasants. To understand changing population dynamics, we monitor the survival of pheasants throughout the year and each spring we monitor 20–70 nests collecting information on reproductive investment and success. We also monitor seasonal movements of pheasants and responses to management and regulations such as the opening of the hunting season or wheat stubble management. In addition to monitoring pheasants we are collecting information on hunter movements and harvest to understand how hunters interact with pheasants in the field.
The findings from this study are helping us to understand the complex dynamics between how uncontrollable factors such as weather interact with habitat and harvest management to affect pheasant population dynamics in an intensively managed ecosystem.