A mild winter proceeded a warm March and April, then a wet May and June is giving wildlife experts mixed messages, but reports are coming in from people who are seeing more pheasants and quail than the last few years.
“We likely had good winter survival from our adult pheasants and quail giving us good populations to build from,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources who coordinates and collects the data from the 208, 30-mile survey routes.
Pheasants do best during mild winters with less than 30 inches of snow followed by a warm, dry spring nesting season with less than eight inches of rain. Iowa’s statewide snowfall average was 21.2 inches. The statewide spring rain average was 8.6 inches.
“I’ve had lots of reports from people who were seeing early pheasant chicks, which is positive given that May and June were so wet,” he said. “Our population model based on weather is predicting a steady to slightly increasing population. Roadside counts should be interesting.”
The August roadside survey is the best measurement of Iowa pheasant population. The 30-mile routes are driven at sunrise on gravel roads preferably on mornings with heavy dew and little wind. Surveyors watch for hens moving their broods to the road edges to dry off before starting to look for insects.
Surveyors note the number in the brood, any adult pheasants present and the size of the chicks, which tells Bogenschutz if this was an initial nest or if the nest was washed out and this brood was from a second or even third nest attempt. Each attempt after the first has fewer eggs than the prior attempt.
The survey also collects data on cottontail rabbits, jack rabbits, quail and Hungarian partridge.
Data is collected from the same routes each year. The information will be available online at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey by middle September.
Incentives to Expand Pheasant Habitat
Habitat for pheasant and quail could be improving in the near term. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a general CRP signup for this winter and has made an additional 800,000 acres of continuous CRP available to the states. The Iowa DNR has submitted requests for some these additional acres. Landowners can find more information at www.iowadnr.gov/habitat.
In addition, the Iowa DNR recently announced another sign up for the Iowa Habitat and hunter Access Program (IHAP) that provides financial incentives to help landowners with pheasant and quail habitat in exchange for public hunter access. For more information on IHAP visit www.iowadnr.gov/ihap.