Wet, Cool Spring May Lead to Fall Pheasant Decline

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A rooster Pheasant finds food and cover in an Iowa grasslandAlthough it may still be a few days before hen pheasants bring their newly emerged chicks out into the open, the peak of this year’s hatch is underway.

Good hunts this fall will hinge largely on how birds fare this spring. When it comes finding out how this year’s hatch is progressing, there’s no better person to ask than DNR Wildlife [Pheasant] Biologist, Todd Bogenschutz.

“In Iowa, it’s been awhile since we’ve had a really great year for pheasant production,” said Bogenschutz. “Pheasants endured a long hard winter last year. Snowfall averaged 45-inches statewide. Parts of eastern Iowa were especially hard hit, with places like Dubuque receiving up to 85 inches of snow. Those kinds of extreme weather conditions make it tough for pheasants. In some regions, loss of hens ran high.

“What pheasants really needed this year, was an ideal spring nesting season to make up for those hen losses,” said Bogenschutz. “Instead, they received cool temps and the second wettest April in 136 years of record keeping. When it comes to spring nesting conditions, it doesn’t get much worse.”

THE RING-NECKED PHEASANT Pheasants nesting in the eastern half of the state endured record shattering rainfalls that averaged from 10 to 12 inches during April. May weather patterns showed little improvement. Most other regions of the state also received above average, though less dramatic, spring rainfall. The only nesting bright spot occurred in portions of western Iowa where spring precipitation was just slightly above normal.

The effects of this year’s cool temps and extreme rainfalls are further magnified by substantial losses in critical upland nesting habitat. As Conservation Reserve Program [CRP] grasslands are converted to row crop, upland birds will find fewer and fewer places to safely lay and incubate their eggs — an issue of much greater importance to future pheasant numbers than the immediate, short term impact of inclement weather.

Iowa lost around 230 square miles of CRP grasslands last September. An additional 210 square miles is expected to be lost during September, 2008. Nearly 800 square miles of Iowa CRP grassland is expected to be converted to row crop by 2010. This incredible loss of habitat is the equivalent of a continuous strip of grassland exceeding 2 ½ miles in width stretching completely across the state from Omaha to Davenport.
by Lowell Washburn