Published July 30, 2009, 10:36 AM

SD pheasant brood count is under way

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - There's no shortage of interest in South Dakota's most popular bird count.

By: Associated Press, Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - There's no shortage of interest in South Dakota's most popular bird count.

Staff in Game, Fish and Parks Department offices are eager to volunteer, and hunters looking forward to October days in the field await results of the pheasant brood survey that's under way.

The July 25-Aug. 15 survey gives a sampling of the summer pheasant hatch, an overall picture of pheasant densities and an estimated population leading up to the hunting season.

"We've got staff beating down the door to run brood surveys," said Chad Switzer. "Everyone wants to do that, and rightfully so."

The 2008 pheasant season, which the GF&P estimates put $219.6 million into the state's economy, drew 176,180 hunters - many of them from outside the state.

The survey is on 110 30-mile routes of primarily gravel roads. Each survey begins at sunrise and ends within two hours. The bird counters drive at no more than 20 mph from west to east to keep the sun out of their eyes as they count chicks and adult pheasants drawn to the road to eat grit and gravel that aids their digestion. Generally, it's one person per route.

Switzer, a wildlife biologist who's the GF&P's pheasant specialist, said the optimum weather conditions for the survey are moderate to heavy dew, clear skies and calm winds.

"That really gets those pheasant broods and roosters and hens out on the road and provides us the most accurate count on those 30-mile surveys," he said.

"Even after a good rainfall with a calm morning and sunny skies, that's great times to run those routes as well," Switzer said.

The GF&P began the summer brood survey in 1949 and has stuck mostly to the same routes, with some additions to increase the sample size.

Last year's survey showed an average of 8.5 birds per mile, the most in 45 years and well above the 1990s average of 3.24 per mile.

"I'd be surprised if we exceed our (2008) statewide average pheasant per mile. I'm not saying it can't happen, but I would be surprised," he said.

The survey could give some indication whether winter storms cut into what had been a rebounding pheasant population in northern South Dakota.

"We had some anecdotal reports of maybe losses greater than average in that north central, northeast part of the state," Switzer said. "However, with that being said, we're getting good reports from staff and landowners on the number of pheasant broods they are seeing in those same spots that we observed some mortality loss."

Nesting habitat was good in spring, but Switzer said cool temperatures during the peak hatch could have reduced brood success.

Youth-only and resident-only seasons precede the general hunting season that runs Oct. 17 to Jan. 3, 2010.

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