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Iowa's Pheasant Population Jumps 37 Percent; Quail Highest Count in 21 Years

Iowa’s pheasant population increased for the second year in a row to a statewide average of 24 birds, up 37 percent over 2014. This is the highest bird count since 2008 for most of the state, and in southeast Iowa, it’s the highest count in more than a decade.  

“It’s amazing when you bring a few females through the winter you can bounce back,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “We had a great winter, little or no snow in March, and April weather was good giving hens a chance for an early nest. But June and July were pretty wet for all but the northwest third of the state and our counts reflected that.”

The highest pheasant counts were 44 birds per route in the northwest region, followed by 38 birds per route in central and 27 birds per route in southeast Iowa and should offer good hunting this fall. 

Lower counts came in southwest, south central and northeast regions. “We made improvements in these regions but have a ways to go to reach our long-term averages,” Bogenschutz said. 
The key to increasing or maintaining pheasant numbers has been and continues to be winter and spring weather, and having the right habitat. 

Iowa had a double dose of bad weather each year from 2007-11 – cold snow-filled winters followed by cool, wet springs – that hammered the pheasant population, dropping statewide averages to 6.6 birds per route in 2011, 7.8 birds in 2012 and 6.5 birds in 2013. During this bad weather stretch, the DNR fielded calls to close the season or reduce the bag limit. Some hunters blamed pesticides and predators, like coyotes and hawks, for the plunge in pheasant numbers. 

“It really comes down to winter survival and nesting success. If the hens don’t make it though winter, they can’t nest. If they can get though the winter, they need a place to nest that can shelter chicks from the elements,” he said.  “It’s nice to have Mother Nature smile on us a few winters in a row, but we could really benefit from adding additional acres of habitat, like the Iowa Pheasant Safe Conservation Reserve Program that provides a good mix of winter cover and spring nesting areas. If we can get one more mild winter, we may finally recover our population that was lost during the 2007-11 stretch of bad weather.”

Based on the average of 24 birds per route, hunters can expect to harvest 300,000 to as many as 500,000 roosters this fall, depending on the number of hunters that return.

“We would need to have more hunters come back to hit the half million harvest, but the birds are there to support it,” he said. 

Iowa’s 90 day pheasant season begins October 31. The DNR’s August Roadside Survey occurs each August 1-15, with staff driving the same 217, 30-mile routes each year.  The complete survey is available online at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey. 


Quail Population Highest in 21 Years
The quail population jumped to a statewide average of 1.44 birds per route, its highest since 1994. The highest quail counts were 4.8 birds per route in the southeast region, followed by 4 birds per route in southwest and just under 4 birds per route in south central Iowa. 
“If you ever wanted to go quail hunting, this is the year,” said Bogenschutz. 

Rabbit Numbers Strong, Partridge Also Higher

Iowa’s rabbit population remains strong especially in south central, southeast central, and east central regions. Hungarian partridge numbers are also higher, offering an opportunity to pheasant hunters to bag a bonus bird in north central, central, northeast and northwest regions.

 Pheasant and small game population distribution map 2015 | Iowa DNR

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