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Iowa Pheasant Population at 10-Year High

BOONE - The Iowa pheasant population increased by 40 percent over 2002 and is at its highest level since 1994. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources tracks pheasant numbers, along with other upland game, during a roadside survey, from August 1 to 15.

Todd Bogenschutz, wildlife biologist with the DNR, said the back to back mild winters benefited nearly every species in the survey, but particularly the pheasant population.

"The over winter survival of 2002 brood stock was excellent because of the lack of persistent snow cover last winter," he said.

"Based on this year's statewide population index, Iowa pheasant hunters should harvest between 1.18 and 1.38 million roosters this fall," Bogenschutz said.

The better regions for pheasants are in northwest, north central and central Iowa. The northwest region had the highest pheasant count in the state averaging 83 birds per 30-mile route, the highest count in the northwest region since 1964. The north central region averaged 67 birds per route, the highest count since 1994, and the central region averaged 64 birds per route, its highest since 1980.

Pheasant numbers in east central, west central and southwest Iowa also had an increase in bird numbers. The east central region averaged nearly 37 birds per route and the west central region averaged 36 birds per route.

The pheasant population in southwest Iowa nearly doubled from the 2002 survey and averaged 29 birds per route. "With another good winter and spring in 2004, the southwest region pheasant population could return to its long-term average of 65 birds per route," Bogenschutz said.

The southeast, south central and northeast regions also had an increase in the pheasant population. In southeast Iowa, the pheasant count was up, but Bogenschutz said the increase was not found across the board. "Some routes had improved pheasant numbers, but others did not," he said.

The south central Iowa had a significant increase of nearly 73 percent over the 2002 survey. "This is the first time the south central region has had two consecutive springs with normal rainfall during the nesting period in more than a decade," Bogenschutz said.

The northeast region had an increase of 60 percent from the 2002 survey, but Bogenschutz said the counts varied from route to route.

"The northeast region experienced three consecutively poor years for winter and spring weather prior to 2002, and it will take another year of favorable winter-spring weather for pheasant populations to rebound to levels we are seeing in other northern regions," he said.

The August roadside survey also tracks the population of bobwhite quail, gray partridge, cottontail rabbit and white-tailed jackrabbit.

Bobwhite quail numbers improved 135 percent over the 2002 count, but remains well below the long-term average. "Iowa's quail population remains in a long-term decline," Bogenschutz said. "Changing land use, mainly intensified agriculture, is a leading factor in the decline. Only pockets of quail will likely be found across the southern three regions this fall."

The gray partridge counts were unchanged from 2002, averaging more than two birds per route. "Typically, partridge recruitment is highest in Iowa when precipitation is well below normal. Years with average to above average rainfall generally are not good for quail reproduction," he said.

The cottontail rabbit population is up 65 percent over 2002 and is the highest in 13 years.

The 2003 statewide jackrabbit index was unchanged from 2002. Jackrabbit numbers have declined over time with the loss of their preferred habitats - small grains, pasture and hayfields - in the northwest, north central, west central and central regions.




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