Now is the time to begin planning shelterbelts and food plots for next winter. Each winter food plots of corn, sorghum, or other grains are used by all kinds of wildlife to help them survive the winter.
Well-designed shelterbelts provide important cover and food plots an additional food source to help pheasant, quail, and other wildlife survive periods of heavy snow. Iowa once again experienced snowfall during this past winter that was above normal.
"There have been few documented cases of pheasants actually starving to death in Iowa," said to Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. "Virtually all of Iowa's winter mortality is attributed to severe winter storms with the birds dying of exposure to predators or the weather."
Shelterbelts provide excellent winter cover for pheasants and other wildlife and a food plot associated with a shelterbelt likely improves survival.
So why plant food plots for pheasants if they seldom starve in winter?
"First, food plots provide winter habitat as well as food. In fact, if properly designed and large enough, the habitat created by a food plot is much more beneficial to wildlife than the food itself," said Bogenschutz. "Second, food plots allow pheasants to obtain a meal quickly, limiting their exposure to predators and maximizing their energy reserves. If hens have good fat supplies coming out of the winter, they are more likely to nest successfully."
Bogenschutz said there are a number of factors landowners should keep in mind when planning shelterbelts and food plots for pheasant and quail.
Corn and sorghum grains provide the most reliable food source throughout the winter as they resist lodging in heavy snows. Pheasants prefer corn to sorghum, although sorghum provides better winter habitat. Sorghum is also less attractive to deer.
Food plots should be located away from tall deciduous trees (that provide raptors with a place sit and watch food plots) and next to wetlands, CRP fields, and multi-row shrub-conifer shelterbelts that provide good winter habitat.
The size of food plots depend upon where they are placed. If the plot is next to good winter cover the smaller (2 acres minimum) the plot can be. If winter cover is marginal, like a ditch, then plots must be larger, in the 5 to 10-acre range, to provide cover as well as food.
Lastly, depending on the amount of use, some food plots can be left for two years. The weedy growth that follows in the second year provides excellent nesting, brood rearing, and winter habitat for pheasants and other upland wildlife. Food plots that have heavy deer use generally need to be replanted every year.
Cost-share assistance or seed for food plot establishment is available from most county Pheasants Forever chapters or local coops. People can also contact their local wildlife biologist for information on how to establish and design shelterbelts or food plots that benefit wildlife.