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Pheasant aren’t native to Iowa.
The pheasant so familiar to Iowans is actually a native to China, but the bird is quite the world traveler. Blackneck pheasants were said to have been brought to Europe around 1000 B.C. and their ringnecked cousins appeared there in the 1500s. Early colonists and settlers tried to introduce pheasants to the United States in the 1700s and 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1881 that the ringnecked pheasant was successfully introduced in Oregon. In Iowa, legend has it that the first pheasants made flight from a Cedar Falls game farm during a wind storm around 1900. Informal and formal stockings followed, and the first pheasant season opened in Iowa in 1925.
They’re fast fliers.
Your average pheasant can fly at a speed of 27 to 38 miles per hour – unless it’s being chased, in which case it kicks in the afterburners and can fly as fast as 60 miles per hour.
Habitat is key.
Iowa’s landscape has changed drastically from what those first pheasants saw more than 100 years ago. As more farmland came out of grass and hay and went into rowcrop, pheasants lost habitat. In the 1950s, Iowa had more than 10 million acres of potential pheasant habitat. In 2013, only 2.78 million acres exist – the lowest ever recorded. Without proper habitat – especially during the winter and in the spring nesting season – it’s difficult for pheasants to survive. To help restore pheasant habitat on private land, Iowa has a new Conservation Reserve Program practice and the Iowa Habitat and Access Program, among other efforts.
Weather makes a winning season.
Any Iowan knows the weather here is wildly unpredictable and variable. Between 1962 and 1999, Iowa had only four catastrophic weather years – defined as a harsh winter followed by a bad spring. Between 2001 and 2013, we had six. This catastrophic weather can severely impact the survival of hens and chicks, which is partly why Iowa’s pheasant numbers were at an all-time low in 2011. With milder weather the past couple of years, the statewide pheasant index has increased from 7 pheasants per route in 2013 to 24 pheasants per route in 2015. Get the latest population numbers
Pheasants get around.
Pheasants are polygamous, meaning that a rooster will mate with numerous hens. About 80 percent of roosters are young of the year, or birds under one year old. So survival of roosters over the winter is not as critical as the hens – and that’s why closing the pheasant season would not help numbers bounce back. It all comes down to habitat, weather and keeping hens alive.
For more on Iowa hunting, check out our Iowa Hunting board on Pinterest and to learn more about Iowa’s wildlife, visit our Iowa Wildlife board.