Linking nest microhabitat selection to nest survival within declining pheasant populations in the Central Valley of California

Wildlife Research
By: , and 



Context: The ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) has experienced considerable population declines in recent decades, especially in agricultural environments of the Central Valley of California. Although large-scale changes in land cover have been reported as an important driver of population dynamics, the effects of microhabitat conditions on specific demographic rates (e.g. nesting) are largely unknown.

Aims: Our goal was to identify the key microhabitat factors that contribute to wild pheasant fitness by linking individual-level selection of each microhabitat characteristic to the survival of their nests within the California Central Valley.

Methods: We radio- or GPS-marked 190 female ring-necked pheasants within five study areas and measured nest-site characteristics and nest fates during 2013–2017. Specifically, we modeled microhabitat selection using vegetation covariates measured at nest sites and random sites and then modeled nest survival as a function of selecting each microhabitat characteristic.

Key results: Female pheasants tended to select nest sites with greater proportions of herbaceous cover and avoided areas with greater proportions of bare-ground. Specifically, perennial grass cover was the most explanatory factor with regard to nest survival, but selection for increasing visual obstruction alone was not shown to have a significant effect on survival. Further, we found strong evidence that pheasants selecting sites with greater perennial grass height were more likely to have successful nests.

Conclusions: Although pheasants will select many types of vegetation available as cover, our models provided evidence that perennial grasses are more beneficial than other cover types to pheasants selecting nesting sites.

Implications: Focusing management actions on promoting perennial grass cover and increased heights at the microsite level, in lieu of other vegetative modifications, may provide improved quality of habitat for nesting pheasants and, perhaps, result in increased productivity. This is especially important if cover is limited during specific times of the nesting period. Understanding how microhabitat selection influences fitness can help land managers develop strategies to increase the sustainability of hunted populations of this popular game-bird species.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Linking nest microhabitat selection to nest survival within declining pheasant populations in the Central Valley of California
Series title Wildlife Research
DOI 10.1071/WR18199
Volume 47
Issue 5
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher CSIRO
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 13 p.
First page 391
Last page 403
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Central Valley
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