By Doug Leier

With the Vikings into training camp, regardless of who plays quarterback for the Purple this fall, most experts agree it should be a good season. The same goes for North Dakota's primary gamebird species this fall.

That said, there's no guarantee and we really won't know until hunters or football players take the field. But my response when asked about hunting prospects is "so far so good." Here's a look at some biological data that helps support my early assessment.

North Dakota's spring pheasant crowing count survey revealed a 6 percent decrease statewide compared to last year, according to Stan Kohn, upland game management supervisor for the state Game and Fish Department.

The number of crows heard in the northwest was down 16 percent from 2009, while counts in the southwest and southeast were relatively unchanged from last year. In the northeast where there are fewer birds, the counts decreased 10 percent.

"This past winter did not appear to have a role in the lower crowing counts," Kohn said. "It is probably the result of a lower number of adult birds surviving the winter of 2008-09, coupled with poor production in spring 2009 because of cool, wet weather at the time of the hatch, resulting in chick mortality and fewer young entering the population last fall."

Kohn said the good news from this spring is the quality of cover will benefit birds and broods of all upland species. "Pheasants are finding nesting and brooding cover in fair quantity and great quality," he added. "Native, warm season plants are doing extremely well and one would anticipate a good number of insects and eventually grasshoppers to become available with this type of habitat component."

While the crowing count survey provides good trend data on roosters, Kohn said it does not assess adult hen population. "Hens are the segment of the population that determines the fall population," he said. "In spring 2009, field personnel noted the low number of hens with roosters (1-2 hens per rooster) indicating the hen population might be smaller than usual. This spring there were no such observations reported."

The spring crowing count does not measure population density, but is an indicator of the spring rooster population based on a trend of number of crows heard. Biologists won't complete brood surveys until early September, and those will provide an indicator of the summer's pheasant production

Waterfowl in North Dakota appear in very good shape as the spring breeding duck survey index of more than 4.5 million birds was up 12 percent from last year and 107 percent above the long-term average (1948-2009). For historical comparison, the 2010 index is the third highest on record.

All species, except for wigeon increased from last year. Pintails were up 10 percent and were at the highest level since 1970. Mallards were up 12 percent and were the fourth highest on record.

Spring waterfowl surveyors also count breeding resident giant Canada geese, and that index came in at the second highest on record.

In addition to good water conditions in North Dakota, reports indicate that much of the duck factory in South Dakota and Montana was in good shape, but Saskatchewan and Manitoba were on the dry side at the time of spring migration.

One final note as Conservation Reserve Program acreage in North Dakota continues to decline. Since the beginning of 2007, North Dakota has lost more than 700,000 CRP acres, and projections for the next two years indicate up to another 1.7 million acres could be converted to cropland.

So while the here and now would probably fit into an "OK" category, concern about the future continues to mount as the grassland habitat base shrinks.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: [email protected]