WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks released its Upland Game Bird Forecast on Tuesday ahead of bird-hunting season.
KDWP’s Wildlife Division produces the forecast annually, which is compiled from data collected during the Department’s spring-calling surveys for pheasants (crow counts), quail (whistle counts) and prairie chickens (lek counts).
It also includes data from late-summer roadside surveys for pheasants and quail.
Here’s a preview from KDWP of what hunters will find in this year’s forecast.
Kansas continues to support above-average quail populations with spring densities similar to last year, including significant increases in portions of the western regions of the state this spring.
Rains beginning in early summer and continuing through much of the nesting season greatly improved habitat conditions across the state. Given the high spring densities and improved summer conditions, staff expected to see increased production on the brood surveys this year.
Despite these conditions, brood detections were decreased. This may be attributed, in part, by the abundant habitat available during the survey.
Still, Kansas maintains one of the strongest quail populations in the country and, given the abundant access, harvest will again be among the highest in the country. The best opportunities will be in the central regions of the state into the Flint Hills, with quality hunting opportunities scattered throughout the remaining regions.
Intense drought conditions throughout 2022 reduced pheasant populations and the available nesting cover for 2023. Precipitation across most of the primary range this summer greatly improved habitat conditions for chicks. This should have improved the survival of broods that were hatched and could result in some localized improvements where nesting cover was maintained. However, lack of nesting cover and low populations across most of the state prevented any major improvements in densities this summer.
The High Plains region of the western third of the state saw some areas of improvement but remain low after sharp declines in 2022. The North Central Smoky Hills region remained good last year in spite of the drought but dropped to levels similar to the remaining pheasant regions.
The statewide pheasant index is similar to the previous drought cycle. Recovery from these declines will likely take longer as habitat has declined with the declines in CRP enrollment (again, this year, acres enrolled in CRP were released to be used for emergency forage for cattle across most of the state). This will likely impact hunter success in 2023 as well as the amount of nesting cover for pheasants again next year. While hunting opportunities still exist where habitat was maintained, hunters will find challenging conditions and should be prepared to work for birds.
Kansas is home to both greater and lesser prairie chickens. Both species require a landscape of predominately native grass and benefit from a few interspersed grain fields. Greater prairie chickens are found primarily in the tallgrass and mixed-grass prairies that occur in the eastern third and northern half of the state. Greater prairie chickens have recently expanded in numbers and range in the Northwestern portion of the state while declining in the eastern regions.
Drought conditions are likely to have impacted production some, but prairie chickens are typically less volatile than other upland bird species, and production is harder to estimate.
Hunting opportunities will be best in the Smoky Hills Regions this fall, where populations have been stable and public access is more abundant.
The Southwest Prairie Chicken Unit, where lesser prairie chickens are found, will remain closed to hunting this year.
For more information and to see the entire forecast, you can visit the KDWP website by clicking here.