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Minnesota roadside pheasant count up 17% from last year

The spring weather in farm country was good for chicks, but the lack of habitat remains an issue.

File: Pheasant
Minnesota's annual roadside pheasant count was up 17% this year from 2021.
Sam Cook / 2014 file / Duluth News Tribune
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The annual summer roadside count for pheasants in Minnesota showed a 17% increase over 2021, the state Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday.

The count showed an average of 48 pheasants per 100 miles of roadway driven by wildlife staff in counties where pheasants are present, up from 41 last year.

That count also is about 18% above the recent 10-year average but still way down from the long-term average of 90.6 pheasants per 100 miles.

Only far southwestern Minnesota saw a decline in birds, by 8%, from last year’s roadside count.

“The weather really cooperated this year in terms of producing favorable nesting conditions for pheasants,” said Tim Lyons, DNR upland game research scientist. “Pheasant numbers are generally as good or better than last year.”


The addition of millions more acres of corn and soybeans in Minnesota has vastly reduced wildlife habitat in agricultural areas of the state.

Minnesota’s 2022 pheasant hunting season runs Oct. 15 to Jan. 1.

Weather and habitat are the main influences on Minnesota’s pheasant population trends, DNR wildlife officials said. Weather causes annual fluctuations in pheasant numbers, while habitat drives long-term population trends. Currently, habitat — namely the number of acres enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program — is diminished from peak pheasant years as high corn prices encourage farmers to plant more crops and set less land aside for wildlife.

Minnesota’s pheasant harvest dropped from 1.8 million birds in 1941 to just 226,679 birds by 2019 as grassland habitat declined rapidly.

Monitoring pheasant population trends is part of the DNR’s annual roadside wildlife survey, which began in 1955. Wildlife managers and conservation officers in the farmland regions conduct the survey during the first half of August. This year’s survey consisted of 166 routes that were 25 miles long, with 147 routes located in the pheasant range.

Observers drive each route early in the morning and record the number of farmland wildlife game species they see.

The "2022 August Roadside Survey" report, a map of pheasant hunting prospects, data for other surveyed species, and information on hunting regulations and bag limits are available on the DNR pheasant hunting page at mndnr.gov/Hunting/Pheasant .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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