Monday, October 10, 2011

Plant winter pheasant habitats

Pheasant populations in Minnesota have dropped 64 percent from 2010, largely due to two severe winters and a wet spring, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Landowners cannot control the weather; however, they can plant more thermal cover for overwintering wildlife.  
University of Minnesota Extension works with state and federal agencies to educate landowners about conservation practices that benefit soil, water and wildlife resources. In partnership with conservation organizations and agency wildlife staff, Extension developed an online fact sheet to assist landowners in creating winter habitat for pheasants, available at
Winter habitat areas can have a dramatic effect on pheasant populations in landscapes that have sufficient nesting cover, but experience severe winters. Winter habitat plantings placed near nesting areas can increase over-winter survival and ultimately result in more hens that are in better condition.
If you are a farmer or other landowner who wishes to help pheasants survive winter, consider the following recommendations:
• Locate winter habitat areas within one or two miles of nesting habitats, and within three miles of each other, to increase benefits to pheasants and other wildlife.
• Avoid planting tall deciduous trees, as they provide perch sites for avian predators.
• Include conifers and shrubs. Also include short deciduous trees such as crabapples, which can provide a winter food source plus cover.
• Plantings should include two rows of shrubs on the windward sides (north and west) to catch drifting snow, an open snow catch area, four or more rows of closely spaced conifers (spruce, etc.) and two rows of shrubs on the leeward side (south and east).  
• A woody cover planting should be large enough to provide shelter in severe winters (at least 200 feet wide and 600 feet in length, or approximately three acres) and be designed to provide protection from prevailing northwest winds. Plantings may be L-shaped, arc-shaped or rectangular.
• If possible, design the planting to protect a food plot and herbaceous nesting cover, such as native grasses and forbs.
Flooding affected many croplands this spring, and some of these areas may qualify for wetland banking or other programs that include native vegetation establishment and increasing winter cover for wildlife. County Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Natural Resource Conservation Service offices can help landowners identify plant and financial resources for wildlife habitats.
To learn more about possible shrubs and trees that can provide winter habitat in Minnesota, visit by Gary Wyatt is an agroforestry educator with University of Minnesota Extension.

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