BOONE – A relatively mild winter may help pheasants and upland bird populations come back after five hard winters and wet springs have taken their toll on the populations.
However, landowners can help upland bird populations rebound through the general Conservation Reserve Program
(CRP). Landowners with CRP provide habitat that helps increase pheasant, quail, turkey, duck or songbird numbers on their land.
Signup at local U.S.D.A. Farm Service Agency offices ends April 6.
Biologists with DNR and Pheasants Forever can help Iowa landowners tailor habitat types to meet their wildlife goals, whether it’s deer, quail or songbirds.
“The general CRP is a great opportunity for landowners to plant grasses, wildflowers and trees to attract the wildlife species they are seeking,” said Todd Bogenschutz, DNR’s state pheasant biologist.
“Rental rates have been updated for people who are re-enrolling land, making CRP more attractive in many counties,” he added. “Most important, it’s a way to provide critical nesting, brood and winter habitat that upland birds need to survive.”
Bogenschutz recommends a diverse mix of grasses and wildflowers to provide nesting and brood rearing areas for hens and young birds. Managing the grasses by disking, burning or interseeding is critical after three to five years to allow chicks to move through it. He recommends taller grasses like big bluestem, Indian grass, and Canada wildrye mixed with a few wildflowers for nesting habitat. The taller grasses help the hens hide from predators. “Also upland birds nest on the ground, so habitat needs to be placed in areas far from water,” he said.
“The best new tool that CRP has to offer is pollinator habitat,” said Matt O’Connor of Iowa’s Pheasants Forever. “Not only does this add essential habitat for our native pollinators and honey bees, which are in serious decline, it’s also good for pheasants and quail brood rearing and nesting.”
Pollinator habitat is a mix of shrubs, legumes and wildflowers with at least three species in bloom during spring, summer and fall. Adding this diversity to the landscape increases landowners’ scores to make their bid for CRP more competitive with other landowners. Adding smaller native grasses like drop seed or little bluestem mixed with wildflowers allows small chicks, the size of a thumbnail, to navigate. The wildflowers also attract protein-rich insects, an important food source for chicks.
For year-round residents, winter cover is a must. Bogenschutz recommends switch grass, cattails, or shrubs and evergreen. Switchgrass is great winter habitat for pheasant. Osier dogwood and wild plums are ideal for quail. In a perfect world, Bogenschutz recommends planting a food plot next to the winter cover.
“The last few winters have been tough on birds. Providing winter cover and food ensures that they have a place to eat and get out of the weather when they are most vulnerable,” he said.
O’Connor urges landowners to visit their local USDA Farm Service Agency office soon, before the signup ends on April 6. The DNR, Pheasants Forever and the USDA FSA and Natural Resource Conservation Service staff can help plan the habitat for a CRP offer.
More information is available on the DNR and FSA websites at www.iowadnr.gov