Iowa’s string of mild winters came to a screeching halt midway through 2019 when the calendar turned to February and the weather pattern went haywire.
“We had such an unusual winter last year – started out mild and dry, and then we had a winter’s worth of snow - 23 inches - in February and several warm-cold snaps that brought freezing rain and ice. Not an easy winter for pheasants and quail to survive,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“Throw in what we experienced in May and I’m not too optimistic about our chances for an increase in the upland bird population. Pheasants and quail are ground nesting birds. The spring flooding and record rains in May plus June storms will have an impact on nest success.”
While the winter and spring were hard, not all hope for pheasant and quail production is lost.
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“Hen pheasants are pretty committed nesters. If she loses a nest, she will attempt a second. If she loses that she will attempt a third. Unfortunately, each subsequent nest attempt has fewer eggs. But some survival beats no survival in my book any day,” he said.
Bogenschutz has also been fielding reports of good numbers of crowing roosters from across Iowa in April. “We’ve seen and heard quail too, which is positive because quail are even more susceptible than pheasants during harsh winters,” he said.
While weather models provide population forecasts to rise or fall based on 30 inches of snowfall and 8 inches of rain – under those benchmarks usually is positive, over them, negative - the best indicator is the Aug. 1-15 annual statewide roadside survey of pheasants, quail and other upland game.
The August roadside survey is conducted driving the same 218, 30-mile routes over Iowa gravel roads on mornings with heavy dew and light wind. These conditions allow the best opportunity to count broods when the hen moves them from the dew heavy grass to the gravel road to dry off before dining on a breakfast of insects. The DNR will post its August roadside numbers online at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey around Sept. 15.