Bird Surveys Aren’t Censuses

Doug Leier

By Doug Leier

One of the key points in explaining many North Dakota Game and Fish Department numbers is understanding the index is not a census. Not every pheasant, deer or grouse in the entire state is counted. Think of how time-consuming, expensive and impossible this would be.

Instead, routes are determined and surveyed each year to compare from past years and historical numbers to form an index. Is the population stable compared to last year? Lower than historical numbers or growing over multiple years? This allows biologists, game managers to understand the trends.

North Dakota’s roadside surveys conducted in late July and August indicate pheasants were down from last year, while sharp-tailed grouse and gray partridge numbers were about the same.

Jesse Kolar, Game and Fish Department upland game supervisor, said results of the annual upland late summer counts were expected.

“Recent weather patterns have shifted toward a drier period, particularly this year with a warm, open winter and exceptional drought across much of the state,” he said. “Hunters should expect to find similar numbers to 2020, with the exception that there will be fewer acres of typical grassland cover to walk.”

Total pheasants (45) observed per 100 miles are down 23% from last year and broods (5) per 100 miles are down 30%. The average brood size (six) remained unchanged. The final summary is based on 266 survey runs made along 102 brood routes across North Dakota.

Observers in the northwest counted eight broods and 68 pheasants per 100 miles, down from 10 broods and 80 pheasants in 2020. Average brood size was six.

Results from the southeast showed three broods and 24 pheasants per 100 miles, down from five broods and 42 pheasants in 2020. Average brood size was four.

Statistics from southwestern North Dakota indicated six broods and 59 pheasants per 100 miles, down from seven broods and 65 pheasants in 2020. Average brood size was seven chicks.

The northeast district, generally containing secondary pheasant habitat with lower pheasant numbers compared to the rest of the state, showed three broods and 24 pheasants per 100 miles, compared to three broods and 22 pheasants last year. Average brood size was five.

Kolar said sharptail hunters should expect to find mainly adult grouse this fall. He said numbers along the Missouri River are still high compared to long-term averages, so hunters who can find cover should have average to good hunting. The eastern part of the state has fewer sharp-tailed grouse, with isolated hot spots.

“Many rangelands that hold grouse on an average year will be too open to hunt this fall, and most grouse will likely be found in shrubland and woodland draws and/or near riparian areas,” he added.

Sharptails observed per 100 miles are up 2% statewide. Brood survey results show observers recorded two sharptail broods and 19 sharptails per 100 miles. Average brood size was six.

Although partridge numbers have shown a slight increase, Kolar said most of the partridge harvest is incidental while hunters pursue grouse or pheasants. Partridge densities in general, he said, are too low to target.

Partridge observed per 100 miles are up 9%. Observers recorded one partridge brood and 10 partridge per 100 miles. Average brood size was 10.

The grouse and partridge seasons opened Sept. 11 and continues through Jan. 2, 2022. The pheasant season runs from Oct. 9 and continues through Jan. 2, 2022.

Leier is an outreach biologist for the NDG&F Dept.

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