A new report finds the size of Iowa’s pheasant population has fallen 83% since the mid-1990s due to disappearing habitat and a series of harsh winters.
Kevin Baskins, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says habitat loss alone would have meant only a 26% drop in pheasant numbers.
“You kind of have an exponential effect when you have declining habitat combined with harsh winters because they have no cover to escape the conditions they’re facing,” Baskins says. “We’ve had several winters in a row with above-average snowfall.”
A milder winter a year ago, combined with the summer-long drought, helped the pheasant population somewhat. Baskins says the habitat loss combined with several severe winters is making it harder for pheasant chicks to survive.
“The other big influence we have weatherwise is when we get into colder and wetter springs,” he says. “The chicks, when they’re hatching, if they’re exposed to those conditions, they succumb to the elements. They don’t have as high a survival rates when we get into the colder and wetter conditions after first hatching.”
Baskins says Iowa lost more than a million acres of habitat between 1996 and 2010. He says higher corn prices prompted many farmers to plow up land that normally would serve as habitat for the birds.
Bob-white quail numbers are also in decline. The numbers come from the DNR’s 2013 report on the pheasant population.