Mixed bag for Idaho’s feathered game

A quail sits on a fence post. Quail numbers are down this year according to surveys by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Pheasant and gray partridge are up slighty compared to a year ago and chukar hunters should find plenty of birds.

Upland bird populations in north central Idaho are likely to be similar to last year, according to Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials.

Recently completed surveys, in which biologists drive predetermined routes around dawn and count the number of birds and broods they observe, show a slight uptick in pheasant and gray partridge numbers compared to last year, but still well behind the long-term averages. Numbers of California quail were down.

Although the agency doesn’t conduct formal surveys of chukar populations, anecdotal information indicates the birds that inhabit dry river canyons of the region are doing well.

Jana Ashling, a biologist for the department, said all of the results should be taken with a grain of salt, because the agency hasn’t established they are a reliable representation of bird numbers. But they can give a hint to hunters who will soon be taking to the field.

“You have to interpret (the data) very cautiously,” Ashling said.

She said this past spring had a lot of cool and wet weather, which can be both a positive and negative to ground-nesting birds. The wet weather makes for healthy insect populations and good growth of vegetation. But if the sogginess is combined with cold temperatures and hits soon after broods have hatched, it can lead to widespread chick mortality. If that happens early enough, the birds often have a second brood.

“I would say we probably had some that were probably hit early (with cold, wet weather), and they always renest a second time. A renesting would have been more successful,” Ashling said. “I think overall numbers are up a little bit from last year.”

Biologists conducting the survey counted 24 pheasants, up 83 percent from last year’s dismal count of 13, but a 37 percent decrease compared to the 10-year average of 38.1.

During the surveys, biologists counted 61 gray partridge, also known as Hungarian partridge or Huns. That compares to 59 counted last year or a 3 percent increase. The long-term average for Huns is 102.5.

Quail were off by 42 percent compared to last year. Biologists counted 85 birds this year and 146 in 2018. The long-term average is 161.7.

Last year was a good one for chukars. Ashling said reports from biologists in the field and people recreating on the Snake and Salmon rivers indicate the population is likely healthy again this fall.

“Chukars are looking good. Maybe not as fantastic as last year, but still good,” she said. “I’ve been hearing from folks in the office that they are still seeing some pretty good chukar numbers, and I anticipate people will have nearly as good of a season as last year.”

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

Recommended for you