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Iowa’s 15-day annual pheasant population survey begins on Aug. 1, and wildlife experts say all indicators are pointing to a stable to increasing population of the popular game bird.
Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said snowfall totals, spring rain and nesting temperature all have a roll in pheasant survival and nesting success. But while these indicators point to likely increases or decreases in the population; the best measure is the annual August roadside survey.
The August roadside survey is conducted driving the same 218, 30 mile routes over Iowa gravel roads on mornings with heavy dew and light wind. These conditions allow the best opportunity to count broods when the hen moves them from the dew heavy grass to the gravel road to dry off before dining on a breakfast of insects.
The survey also records the number of quail, cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits and partridge.
“We’ve been hearing reports from the southern third of Iowa of more rooster crowing and male bobwhite calling this spring, which is a great sign for overwinter survival. Broods began showing up in mid May which suggests a good nesting season,” Bogenschutz said. “Our bobwhite population could be its highest in decades if we have a favorable nesting season.”
While much of southern Iowa enjoyed a mild winter, the western third of Iowa had either higher snowfall, and/or higher spring rain that may impact winter survival and nesting success. The region with the most favorable conditions was east of I-35 and south of Hwy. 175. Other regions had mix of good news bad news for weather indicators that will be sorted out in August.
“Overall we should see another increase in pheasants and quail,” he said.
If it happens, it would be the fourth year in a row for a pheasant increase. But the return of Iowa’s pheasants has not been mirrored by return of pheasant hunters.
After dropping to an all time low of 41,000 in 2013, more than 56,000 hunters pursued pheasants in 2015, harvesting more than a quarter million roosters.
“Hunters look at our pheasant harvest estimate as a gauge of our population, but that is misleading because if hunters aren’t out there, the harvest will be down. Based on last year’s population estimate, a harvest of a half million roosters is possible. We are glad to see hunters returning, but we won’t reach our harvest potential until we have more hunters in the field,” Bogenschutz said.
Iowa’s pheasant season begins Oct. 29.