Ring-necked pheasants are by far the most popular and sought after game animal in South Dakota. We in South Dakota are fortunate to live in a state where given the right habitat components any area can have substantial pheasant populations. Our state bird is successful due to its highly adaptable nature and ability to live in an agricultural landscape. That being said, pheasants do have several requirements to attain optimal population levels in any given area.
By far the most limiting factor on most properties and in South Dakota as a whole is quality undisturbed nesting cover. Nesting cover can include a wide array of herbaceous cover including CRP, dense nesting cover plots (DNC), properly grazed pastures, and haylands differed to at least July 15. As with many other upland nesting bird species larger blocks of nesting cover are beneficial because they increase both hen survival and nest success. Nesting blocks between 40-160 acres are ideal for pheasant management. Many options exist through USDA's CRP and CCRP programs to increase nesting cover on your property with maintaining an income on those acres.
Brood rearing cover is the second component to successful pheasant management. Broad leaf plants attract insects critical for chick survival during a broods first few weeks of life. Species like alfalfa, sweet clover, and a diverse group of native legumes and wild flowers can be incorporated into grassland seeding mixes to create brood rearing habitat. Reducing the number and acres of row cropped food plots and converting them to brooding habitat areas can increase chick survival on your property. The number one mistake landowners make is too many food plot acres. In our agricultural landscape food is rarely an issue for pheasants.
Winter survival is the next concern that needs to be addressed in any pheasant management plan. Dense stands of warm season native grasses can serve as roosting cover during all but the most severe winter weather. These grasses remain upright in snow, allowing pheasants to roost. Large emergent wetlands like cattail sloughs can perhaps be the most effective winter cover available. Strategically placing other habitat components such as grass planting, food habitat plots, and woody cover plantings near emergent wetlands will amplify the benefits of winter cover, increasing survival of pheasants on your property. Woody cover in the form of shrub and small tree plantings serve to provide thermal protection for pheasants in extreme winter weather such as blizzards and ice storms. For pheasants wide, blocky tree planting of 9+ rows are needed to provide adequate winter cover. Narrow tree plantings fill with snow and provide little winter habitat for pheasants.
For more information on pheasant habitat management contact your local SD GFP private lands habitat biologist
For more information on USDA habitat programs please contact your local pheasants forever Farm Bill Biologist.