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Weeds - Pheasants Best Friends
Weeds - the stuff of dreams, or the stuff of nightmares? Few farmers sing the praises of weeds and the bugs that go with them, but pheasants certainly would, if they could.
Half-grown pheasant chicks hunt for insects in a stand of weeds and volunteer corn.
What Pheasant Chicks Need
Just like chickens, pheasant chicks need to be brooded when they are very young and the weather is cool or wet, because their feathers are not developed enough to keep them warm. Cool, wet conditions in spring and summer tend to reduce the size of pheasant broods.
Food is related to chick survival as well. Many people think pheasants eat grain and seeds their entire lives, but pheasant chicks really need the protein, calcium and fat that insects provide to help them grow and develop. Bugs are good for pheasant chicks, and one way to deliver them is to provide forbs like alfalfa, sweet clover and other annual broad-leafed weeds. Broad-leafed plants are good habitat for insects and a great, safe place for chicks to feed.
Farmers often consider weeds a threat - in a crop field they block sunlight and sap soil moisture and nutrients that the crop needs in order to grow. As wildlife habitat, however, weeds are worth their weight in gold and should be expected, and even encouraged, to grow in fields managed for pheasants and other wildlife.
Of course, not all weeds are created equal. Weeds that reduce yields or are by law designated as noxious must be controlled, but annuals such as sunflower, kochia and ragweed are extremely beneficial in CRP fields. They add diversity to a stand of grass, making it perfect for nesting and brooding the chicks. The leafy canopy overhead shields the nest and chicks from birds of prey, and chicks can easily move around among weeds that attract lots of the protein-rich bugs that make up more than 90% of a growing chick's diet. Weeds also provide food and cover during winter months.
Any type of management done to a field of grass will result in an increase of annual, broad-leafed plants. Plants such as annual sunflowers, kochia, ragweed, pigweed, marestail, and others are short-lived and will persist only until grasses dominate the site again. These annuals are nature's way of healing disturbed areas, holding soil in place and allowing perennial plants such as grasses to reestablish. Annual weeds grow from seed every year, and over time, fade away in stands of grass.
By state law, all noxious weeds must be controlled, but some control methods are better and cheaper than others. Spot treating noxious weeds allows beneficial plants to remain undisturbed while controlling the targeted weeds. Spot spraying also costs less than blanket spraying an entire field.
Dale Clark of Stanton didn't plan to disk and interseed his CRP ground until he learned he would be allowed to control noxious weeds. Although the thought of any weeds at all still concerned him, he said, "I didn't have anything for habitat. I decided having pheasants around was worth having some weeds again."
Landowners who worry about weeds and insects invading adjacent crop fields should leave a buffer strip of grass between their crop and the segment they disk and interseed to improve wildlife habitat. This strip of grass, unfriendly to either bugs or weeds, will help protect the crop.
Dick Newman of Big Springs is one of many landowners who have noticed increased bird numbers after upgrading their CRP and seeing an increase in weeds. Newman owns a CRP-MAP site in Perkins County and asked Nebraska Game and Parks Commission biologists, "When did you guys stock the birds in there?"
Newman saw more pheasants than ever before in that field and was sure that some had been stocked, but none had been. The marked increase in pheasants was simply the result of disturbing the CRP and allowing beneficial weeds to grow. Cooperating landowners have had little trouble with weeds, and enjoy seeing more pheasants and other wildlife on their properties.
Many people think pheasants have several broods each year. Did you know that most hens only raise one set of chicks each year?
In fact, most hens only raise one brood in their lives. Pheasants just don't live very long in the wild. Quail, on the other hand, can raise more than one brood per year and the male sometimes tends to one brood while the female starts laying eggs in a new nest.