A blizzard was not the way Iowa’s pheasant and quail wanted to start winter. About half of Iowa received 6 to 12 inches of wet heavy snow that collapsed most “grassy” cover. The cover that did not collapse was drifted full of snow from the high winds.
“This was a bad storm for upland game birds,” said Todd Bogenschutz, state upland game biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “It’s very likely we saw some bird mortality with this blizzard.”
Winter snowfall from December 1 thru March 31 is a good predictor of whether upland bird populations will increase or decrease the following year, and to have upwards of one foot of snow only 20 days into December does not bode well for pheasants, said Bogenschutz.
“Iowa had only 17 inches of snow last winter. Parts of Iowa are close to that total already with this first storm,” he said.
Iowa’s pheasant and quail populations were decimated by five consecutive winters of 30-50 inches of snow from 2007 thru 2011. The winter of 2011-12 with only 17 inches of snow led to the first increase in pheasant numbers in years.
“Upland bird hunters were hopeful this winter would also be dry and mild to speed a population recovery. Let’s hope there are no more storms like this for the rest of the winter,” Bogenschutz said.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Pheasants Forever chapters will meet jointly next month to discuss methods to improve winter habitat for pheasant and quail.
Iowa has 50,000 acres under a new Conservation Reserve Program called Iowa Pheasant Recovery SAFE. Landowners have the opportunity to enroll in this program first come first serve until the acres are gone.
Unfortunately county FSA offices cannot enroll Iowa landowners until Congress gives USDA authority to begin enrollment under a new farm bill.