Shrubs and Conifers Offer Winter Protection to Pheasant and Quail
Posted: 03/12/2013
AMES - The seemingly endless barrage of winter storms impacting Iowa this season are leaving many wildlife experts and enthusiasts concerned that it could be a bad year for pheasants and quail. 

Heavy snowfall collapsed much of the grassy cover that upland game birds rely on for shelter in the winter, while cover that hasn’t collapsed has been rendered inaccessible by drifting snow. 

The pattern is nothing new – despite a relatively dry winter last season that led to an increase in bird numbers, the four winters prior to last year saw heavier-than-average snowfall, which wreaked havoc on populations.

“Iowa had only 17 inches of snow last winter,” said Todd Bogenschutz, state upland game biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Parts of the state were close to that total with the first storm in December. It’s very likely we will have some bird mortality with these heavy snows.”

One solution to preventing winter mortality is to plant more conifers and woody shrubs.

Unlike grasses, shrubs, such as gray dogwood, wild plum and ninebark, can grow to 10 feet or more, withstand heavy snow and high winds and offer refuge in even the heaviest of snowpack. 

Conifers, like white spruce, also provide excellent cover so long as they don’t grow tall enough to allow nesting for hawks and other predators.

“Shrubs provide cover in the winter and supply food for game birds and other wildlife in the warm months,” said Aron Flickinger, state forest nursery manager for the Iowa DNR. “We can’t control the weather, but we can increase the habitat that wildlife depend upon for survival by planting native trees and shrubs.”