A well designed food plot can provide additional shelter for pheasants, quail and other wildlife, and withstand wet heavy snows that often flatten grass habitats, like the March 23 storm that blew across north Iowa.
“There have been few documented cases of pheasants actually starving to death in Iowa,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Virtually all of Iowa’s winter mortality is attributed to persistent snows or blizzards with the birds dying of exposure to predators or the weather.” With next winter in mind, now is the time to begin planning food plots.
So why plant food plots for pheasants if they seldom starve in winter?
First, food plots provide winter habitat as well as food. In fact, if properly designed and large enough, the habitat created by a food plot is much more beneficial to wildlife than the food itself. Second, food plots allow pheasants to obtain a meal quickly thereby limiting their exposure to predators and maximizing their energy reserves.
“If hens have good fat supplies coming out of the winter, they are more likely to nest successfully,” said Bogenschutz. Food plots also provide habitat and food for many other species like deer, turkey, partridge, squirrels, and songbirds.
Bogenschutz offers the following suggestions for planning shelterbelts and food plots for pheasants and quail:
- Corn provides the most reliable food source throughout the winter as it resists lodging in heavy snows. Sorghum or milo provides better winter habitat. Pheasants prefer corn to sorghum as a food source. Half corn and half sorghum plots make the best of both worlds – cover and food – for pheasant and quail.
- Place food plots next to wetlands, CRP fields, and multi-row shrub-conifer shelterbelts that provide good winter habitat and away from tall deciduous trees that provide raptors with a place sit and watch food plots.
- Size of food plots depends upon where they are placed. If the plot is next to good winter cover the plot can be smaller but at least two acres minimum. If winter cover is marginal, like a ditch, then plots must be larger – 5 to 10 acres – to provide cover as well as food.
- Depending on the amount of use some food plots can be left for two years. The weedy growth that follows in the second year provides excellent nesting, brood rearing, and winter habitat for pheasants and other upland wildlife. Food plots that have heavy deer use generally need to be replanted every year.
Cost-share assistance or seed for food plot establishment is available from most county Pheasants Forever chapters or local co-ops. People can also contact their local wildlife biologist for information on how to establish and design shelterbelts or food plots that benefit wildlife. More information is available at http://www.iowadnr.gov/privatelands