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Minnesota's upland game research scientist has been tracking rainfall and short-term drought conditions across the state's pheasant range to monitor whether grassland nesting areas will produce enough insect food for newly hatched chicks.

That's about the only habitat challenge the birds are facing this year as the peak pheasant hatch comes to an end, said Tim Lyons of the Department of Natural Resources. By now, the baby birds are more than a week or two old and on schedule for normal development.

"It's still early in terms of being able to see birds near the roads,'' Lyons said.

But compared to a year ago, when a late snowstorm and flooding impeded the hatch, conditions have been favorable.

According to last week's update of the United States Drought Monitor, measurements of "moderate drought'' touch the state's western border near Ortonville and expand in a swath north and east toward Mille Lacs. In addition, "abnormally dry'' conditions have spread into west-central Minnesota and all along the western border with South Dakota from Luverne to Wheaton.

Lyons said dryness and drought will lessen the insect population needed to nourish pheasant chicks. So far, he doesn't view it as a problem, but many grasslands already are very dry compared to a year ago.

Last year's August roadside survey of the state's pheasant population led hunters to believe the harvest would be down. But especially late last season there were reports that the birds were more plentiful than expected.

"Everyone seemed to agree that it was down, but less than in past years,'' Lyons said.

Tony Kennedy