By Dennis Newman - Idaho
As the vibrant colors of fall continue to fade, we are reminded that the cold
grasp of winter is just around the corner.
For sportsmen, landowners, and conservationists, the imminent onset of winter
may conjure up thoughts of the constant struggle of survival wildlife face.
The fight for survival and perpetuation of the species is never more difficult
then in the harsh winter months.
Pheasants and other upland game birds may be among the most vulnerable species
to the wrath of winter. Upland game bird populations experience a vast array of
fluctuation from year to year in part because of the two major factors of winter
Long, cold, wet springs may lead to high mortality rates in the newly hatched
chicks. During the period from hatching to the point the chicks develop their
first set of feathers they are very susceptible to the weather. A cold and wet
chick usually means a dead chick.
Little can be done to change Mother Nature, but planting high quality nesting
cover can help birds produce more chicks to overcome the losses to weather.
For game birds, winter is a time of struggle to find food, escape the weather
and evade predators. Planting thermal cover can help birds survive harsh
weather, and good escape cover helps them evade predators.
Providing cereal grains, berries, and seeds will help reduce losses from
starvation. All of these lead to better hen condition in the spring, which
translates to higher nesting success. So in a way, things that help birds
survive the winter, also help improve their chances of success in the spring.
The best way to provide cover and food is by planting woody cover, consisting of
a mixture of conifers and hardwood shrubs. Conifers provide thermal cover and
hardwood shrubs produce food, such as berries, seeds and hips. This gives birds
access to food during heavy snowfall, without being exposed to predators.
Species such as ponderosa pine, Douglas hawthorn, chokecherry, elderberry,
serviceberry, currant and woods rose are examples of plants that are crucial to
winter bird habitat in Idaho.
Planting winter food plots benefits upland game birds and numerous other
wildlife species. Winter food plots should consist of cereal grains and should
be located no more than 200 feet from woody winter cover to let birds get to the
food without being overly exposed to predators.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game's regional habitat biologists can provide
technical help with projects to improve habitat on private land to benefit local
birds as well as help in finding the money for many projects.
Fish and Game's Habitat Improvement Program offers funding for private land
habitat projects that benefit upland game birds and waterfowl throughout the
state. For information on the program or ways to improve game bird populations
call the Fish and Game Clearwater office at 208-799-5010.
Dennis Newman is a regional habitat biologist in the Clearwater Region.