Cover condition and its influence on nesting success, survival, and body condition of ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) were evaluated at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge (TLNWR) and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (LKNWR). Inadequate nesting cover was responsible for extremely low nest success early in the nesting season at TLNWR. Later in the season at TLNWR, spring-planted crops provided cover to conceal nesting and renesting hens; however, only 0.07 young were produced (to 1 August) per hen during the study. The extremely low reproductive rates were well below those required to maintain a stable population. At TLNWR, most adult mortality during spring and early summer (before crops provided adequate cover) apparently resulted from predation by golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos). This mortality occurred weeks before insecticide applications. Hard winters (cold temperatures and heavy snowfall) periodically reduce the pheasant population in the Klamath Basin and again greatly reduced numbers during the last year of this study. Unfortunately, pheasant populations declined under the conditions found during this study and were unable to recover from the hard winter of 1992 to 1993. Mean body mass and tarsal length of adult hen pheasants at TLNWR, which is intensively farmed, were less than those for hens at LKNWR, which is not intensively farmed. Results of our study suggest that TLNWR hens may have been nutritionally stressed, and that the amount and distribution of vegetative cover needs to be improved at TLNWR. Habitat management of edge cover along agricultural crops should feature perennial grasses and legumes with small tracts of land interspersed throughout the agricultural fields to provide alternative cover for wildlife in general including pheasants.
Additional publication details
Declining ring-necked pheasants in the Klamath Basin, California: II. Survival, productivity, and cover