Idaho survey finds few pheasants this year

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Upland bird hunters should find abundant populations of quail and Hungarian partridge this fall, according to recent Idaho Fish and Game surveys, but pheasants will be scarce.

Following a two-year climb toward respectability, pheasant numbers tumbled. Last year, biologists for the department counted 72 pheasants while driving set routes at dawn and counting upland game birds they encounter. The 2012 tally was the highest since 199 were recorded in 2005.

This year, they only counted 10 pheasants, third lowest total in the past 24 years.

"Last year we took a pretty good jump and we were hoping to get some momentum going but that obviously didn't happen," said Dave Koehler, a wildlife biologist for Fish and Game at Lewiston.

He speculated the population took a hit in June when rain and cool weather fell at about the same time chicks were hatching. Cold, wet weather can lead to high mortality rates in young birds. But rain can also lead to the kinds of conditions that produce high survival through the summer.

"Some of the wet years, if they survive it, that also leads to the very best habitat you can have. They get good forb growth and insect growth. Where if it's really dry some years, they may survive the nesting time but habitat conditions are so poor not a lot of them survive until fall," he said. "It's almost impossible to predict."

Pheasant numbers are down 86 percent from last year and 86 percent from the 10-year average.

Quail and Huns are both up. Biologists counted 294 quail, a 103 percent improvement on 2012 and 43 percent above the 10-year average.

The surveyors counted 106 Huns, also known as gray partridge. That marks a 33 percent improvement on last year but about 5 percent below the 10-year average. Doves were up about 35 percent and predators were down. Biologists recorded a 67 percent reduction in large raptors compared to last year and a 40 percent decline in coyotes. Chukar surveys, which are done by aircraft, were discontinued a few years ago because of safety and budgetary concerns.

Quail and partridge seasons open Sept. 21 in Idaho and Oct. 5 in eastern Washington. Pheasant season opens Oct. 12 in Idaho and Oct. 19 in eastern Washington.