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Ring-necked Pheasant Use of Cover Crops in Western Kansas

Adela Annis, M.S. Student
Alix Godar, Ph.D. Student

Project Supervisors:
Dr. David Haukos

Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism

Northern High Plains of Western Kansas

June 2019

Status: Ongoing

Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)


Test different cover crop mixes for differences in vegetation composition, structure, and invertebrate biomass.

Measure nesting and brooding pheasant use and success among different spring cover crop mixes and chemical fallow control.

Test for selection of cover crops relative to availability of other cover types in the landscape.

Progress and Results:

In the Great Plains, cover crops are grown between regular grain crops as a conservation practice. Cover crops are temporary establishment of vegetation cover with the primary purpose of improving soil quality. Benefits to cover crops include fixing atmospheric nitrogen in soil to be used by the next cash crop, scavenging nitrogen remaining after the previous cash crop, reducing soil compaction, providing wind and water erosion protection, providing livestock forage, increased water infiltration, and suppressing weeds (Fageria et al. 2005). Additional ecological benefits would be provision of previously unavailable wildlife habitat, attraction of pollinators, and carbon storage. However, disadvantages to cover crops can include cost, reduced soil moisture, increased risk of pests and disease, allelopathy, or contamination of subsequent crops (e.g., use of triticale that seeds out) (Dabney et al. 2001). Therefore, producers need reliable information when considering costs and benefits to use of cover crops (Snapp et al. 2005).

Use of cover crops rather than the cropping practice of fallow between crops has been highly recommended for much of the past century, with increasing emphasis following the 1930s Dust Bowl and the more recent declining availability of ground water for irrigation (Reeves 1994). However, recognition of the value of cover crop, especially legumes, has been promoted for over 2,000 years (Pieters 1927). In western Kansas, a common crop rotation is cool-season winter wheat and warm-season grain sorghum (i.e., milo) with periods of fallow between crops. Although there is little dispute regarding the potential benefits of establishing a cover crop between winter wheat and milo crops, there is some debate on the appropriate seed mix for establishing cover crops. Cover crop seed mixes usually include legumes (red clover, crimson clover, vetch, peas, beans) to fix atmospheric nitrogen. However, the remaining species in the seed mix typically depends on the objectives of the producer. In some cases, producers are interested in providing wildlife habitat for recreational and economic benefits in addition to improving soil quality.

The ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus: hereafter pheasant) is arguably the most popular game bird in Kansas, with 110,000-150,000 annual hunters and harvest ranging from 425,000-824,000 birds (http://ksoutdoors.com/Hunting/Upland-Birds/Pheasant). Prendergast and Wiens (2015) reported that the Kansas Pheasant Crow Survey Index (PCSI; mean number of crows per 2-minute stop for ~20-mile transects (11 stops/transect) declined from the highest recorded value in 2011 (PCSI = 20) through 2014 due to extreme and extensive drought conditions. However, there was a 54% increase state-wide from 2014-2015. Unfortunately, the 2015 index value (8.79) was still 56% below the 2011 high. Similar trends in pheasant abundance are reported throughout the Midwest and Great Plains (Midwest Pheasant Study Group 2013). Use of cover crops has been proposed as conservation strategy to benefit nesting and brooding pheasants (Midwest Pheasant Study Group 2013). However, response by pheasants to establishment of cover crops in the agricultural landscape and a variety of seed mixes is unknown but recognized as a critical research need by the Midwest Pheasant Study Group (2013).

Given the economic and recreation of pheasant hunting (e.g., $219.8 million in South Dakota in 2009), evaluating pheasant response to cover crop practices would provide management information for agencies and landowners interested in increasing pheasant abundance. Given that the most common use of cover crops in the wheat/milo crop rotation is spring planting and summer termination, the effect of cover crops in this system would be during the reproductive effort of pheasants.

Professional Presentations:
Annis, A. C., A. J. Godar, D. A. Haukos and J. Prendergast. 2017. Survival of Ring-Necked Pheasants in Western Kansas Spring Cover Crops. The Wildlife Society 24th Annual Conference, Albuquerque, NM.

Godar, A.J., A. C., Annis, D. A. Haukos and J. Prendergast. 2017. Ring-Necked Pheasant Use of Spring Cover Crops in Western Kansas. The Wildlife Society 24th Annual Conference, Albuquerque, NM.

Annis, A. C. and J. J. Fontaine. 2017. Factors Influencing Ring-Necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) Nest Survival in Southwest Nebraska. Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, Lincoln, NE.

Annis, A. C., A. Godar, D. A. Haukos, and J. Prendergast. 2017. Kansas Ring-Necked Pheasant Habitat Use and Survival in Summer Cover Crops. Kansas Natural Resources Conference, Wichita, KS. (Poster).