Game bird numbers are a mixed bag

Pheasant hunters could flush more roosters this fall, but likely will have a tougher time finding Hungarian partridge, according to upland bird surveys conducted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

The surveys also showed a dip in quail numbers and anecdotal reports that point to what should be a good year for chukar.

Upland game bird populations are known to fluctuate with weather conditions. Spring rain can be both a blessing and a curse. Abundant rain feeds plant communities and insect populations that are important for upland birds. But when mixed with cool temperatures and timed with the week that birds hatch, it can devastate chicks.

“If it doesn’t kill them, it leads to the best brood-rearing habitat you can have, so it’s a positive,” said Dave Koehler, a wildlife biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston. “But it’s obviously a negative if they don’t survive.

“I’m guessing there was some (mortality) based on the fact that we saw (juvenile) birds that were nearly adult size and some that were quite a bit smaller.”

Juvenile birds that are still quite small in late August when the surveys are conducted indicate that cold weather wiped out some broods, but the adult birds were able to re-nest and raise a second clutch.

Surveyors counted 69 pheasants while driving along designated routes after dawn. That is a 47 percent increase from 2016 and better than the 10-year average of 38. But it’s down compared to the 115 counted in 2015 and the all-time high mark of 199 set in 2005.

“If you look at what we’ve had over the last 10 years it’s reasonably good, but if you take a longer-term look at it, a longer-term perspective, there are years that have been much higher,” Koehler said.

Surveyors counted 83 quail, a decrease of 42 percent from 2016 and about half the 10-year average of 170.8. Hungarian partridge numbers also were down. Biologists counted 92 birds, a 29 percent decline from the 130 counted last year and 8 percent off the 10-year average of 100.

“We were down compared to the 10-year average but they were pretty close to that,” he said.

Koehler said unscientific reports from conservation officers and other people who spend a lot of time along the lower Snake and Salmon rivers indicates chukar hunters should be in for a good fall.

“It’s not an iron-clad data set but everything is pointing in the same direction,” he said.

Barker may be contacted at or at 208-848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.