Date of this Version
Published in The Journal of Wildlife Management 76:8 (2012), pp. 1543-1652; doi: 10.1002/jwmg.409
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields may provide good habitat for nesting and brood-rearing ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) during early stages of succession. But, the success of hens in early successional CRP, relative to late successional CRP and other grassland habitats, has yet to be evaluated. The reproductive period is especially critical for populations of pheasants, and CRP’s benefits to hens and chicks may decrease as fields age because of loss of vegetative diversity, decrease in vegetation density, and accumulation of residual litter. During 2005– 2006, we evaluated spatial and temporal variation in nest and brood survival for radio-marked hen pheasants in areas of northeastern Nebraska where portions of CRP fields had been recently disced and interseeded (DICRP) with legumes. Nests in DICRP tended to have a higher daily survival rate (0.984; 95% CI: 0.957–0.994) than nests in grasslands (including CRP) that were unmanaged (0.951; 95% CI: 0.941–0.972). The probability of 23-day nest success was 0.696 (95% CI: 0.631–0.762) for DICRP and 0.314 (95% CI: 0.240–0.389) for unmanaged grasslands. Daily brood survival rates varied by habitat type, brood age, and date of hatch. The probability of a brood surviving to day 21 was 0.710 (95% CI: 0.610–0.856). Brood survival rates increased with time spent in DICRP and as the brood aged. Survival decreased as broods spent more time in cropland and peaked seasonally with broods that hatched on 15 June. Brood survival probability, to 21 days, would be reduced to 0.36 (95% CI: 0.100–0.701) if broods in our sample had not used DICRP. We combined nest and brood survival in a productivity model that suggested 2,000 hens, in a landscape with no DICRP, would produce 1,826 chicks, whereas the same hens in a landscape of 100% DICRP would produce 5,398 chicks. Production of first-year roosters more than doubled when hens nested in DICRP. Without DICRP, population growth rates of pheasant populations usually declined; with DICRP, populations stabilized with at annual survival rates of 0.3 or greater. The positive response of nest and brood survival to discing and interseeding CRP provides further evidence that CRP fields must be managed to optimize wildlife benefits.