Iowa’s 15-day annual pheasant population survey began with tempered expectations on Aug. 1, after a record setting wet spring, with cool temperatures that followed a snowy winter.
“When our pheasants do best, it’s after mild winters with less than 30 inches of snow followed by a warm, dry spring nesting season where we receive less than eight inches of rain,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources who coordinates and collects the data from the 208, 30-mile survey routes.
“We had that scenario last year and our birds responded. But that is not the case this year.”
The nesting season is April 1 to May 31 and during that period, the average temperature was 51 degrees and Iowa received 15.4 inches of precipitation, including a significant snowfall during the first weekend in May. In years with similar weather, the pheasant survey found declines ranging from 4 percent to 51 percent.
“It’s probably assured that the pheasant count will decline, the only question is by how much,” Bogenschutz said. “And we will know soon.”
The 30-mile routes are driven at sunrise on gravel roads preferably on mornings with heavy dew and little wind. The surveyors watch for hens moving their broods to the road edges to dry off before starting to look for insects.
Surveyors note the number in the brood, any adult pheasants present and the size of the chicks, which tells Bogenschutz if this was an initial nest or if the nest was washed out and this brood was from a second or even third nest attempt. Each attempt after the first has fewer eggs than the previous attempt.
They are the same routes each year.
The survey also collects data on cottontail rabbits, jack rabbits, quail and Hungarian partridge.
The information will be available online at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey
by middle September.