Todd Bogenschutz, an upland wildlife research biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says snowfall — just this month — equals what we often get from December through March. There were some warm-ups, he says, but not enough.
“We just melted the snow that was there but we didn’t melt it to the ground and then it got cold with the blizzard on top of it,” Bogenschutz says. “It turned it to ice and then we got the new snow on top, making it very difficult for the birds to dig through that now to get down to any waste grain on the ground.”
Pheasant and quail populations will most certainly take a tumble this winter, he says, as it’s difficult for them to survive in these unforgiving conditions.
“The birds that have made it through now are relegated to eat what they can find above the frozen layer,” Bogenschutz says. “They’re probably out there searching but they’re having to go out there a long ways to find a meal.”
Pheasant hunting seasons in Iowa run from late October through early January and this past season drew between 50- and 60,000 hunters.
“Generally, getting the birds, even when they’re abundant, is challenging,” Bogenschutz says. “It seems like when we say the populations are better, we see an increase in hunter numbers and an increase in the harvest. Then, when we say bird numbers are down, it seems to make the hunting even tougher and we see even fewer hunters.”
As the birds scrounge for food farther from their nests, they’re facing longer exposure to the bitter cold, plus, the brown pheasants are against a white background, making them more obvious to predators.
“A lot of folks are asking, ‘What can we do for the birds?’ and I say it’s really about providing good habitat. If you’ve got good winter cover and a good food plot, buy it. That’s where we’re going to see our best survival.”
While southwest Iowa has enjoyed a multi-year run of record quail populations, the heavy snow and ice will likely mark an end to that, he says. Bogenschutz predicts significant declines in the pheasant and quail populations this coming year, adding, this is easily the toughest winter in five years.