The Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist who tracks pheasant numbers in the state is cautiously optimistic a milder winter and dry spring will help boost the declining bird population. Todd Bogenschutz looked at 50 years of weather records and their impact on the pheasant population to come up with a prediction.
“I think we are going to see our first statewide increase in pheasant numbers, probably since 2006,” Bogenschutz says. Asked to put a number on it, he predicts a 40% increase in the population this year. That’s a good jump, but Bogenschutz says it’s not time to say things have turned around.
“That’s the one thing I caution folks, you know, we’re going to have an increase this year and that’s a great thing. I wish we’d had this kind of weather two years ago when we had more birds to work with,” Bogenschutz says. “We have great weather, the problem is we don’t have a lot of hens out there to take advantage of it. The ones that we do have are probably doing very well, it’s just we don’t have many.”
The problem with getting too excited about an increase in pheasant numbers is that they can go back down just as quickly if we get a winter with heavy snows and a cold wet spring. But, he says moving ahead is a start toward a comeback.
“You know it took us five years to get this low, so we’re not going to get back in one year. It’s gonna take probably two or three years to get numbers back where folks would like to see ’em, or what they’ve come to expect in Iowa. I’d like to hope this weather pattern has kind of broken and we’re gonna have a couple of good years here,” Bogenschutz says.
The D.N.R.’s August roadside survey will provide the actual backing of Bogenschutz’s prediction that bird numbers are up. Recent roadside surveys have averaged around seven birds per route, and Bogenschutz says that will likely move up to 14 birds per route this year.
“We’re getting lots of reports from staff already seeing broods — both pheasant and quail broods already — it seems like the peak of the hatch was a little bit earlier this year. Given how nice March was, I guess that doesn’t surprise me,” he says. “All indications are that we’re going to see an increase this year, so that’s good.”
Bogenschutz says ideal survey results would lead to counts of 30 to 40 birds on each survey route. The good weather has also benefited quail and cottontail rabbits.
“Both those were also at pretty record lows, and our turkey production has been struggling, and so I expect an uptick in that…you know it’s been a long time since Iowa’s wildlife has been smiled on by Mother Nature, so I think we’ll see a bump probably in all those species this year,” Bogenschutz says.
Bogenschutz says the drop in the number of conservation reserve acres has also had an impact on the pheasant population. He says the state has some successful recent signups for C.R.P. acres, which would bode well for the birds by increasing their available habitat.