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Story after story on TV, the radio and in newspapers detailed the historic winter storm that swept across northern and western Iowa last weekend, stranding vehicles and closing roads for days. Drivers were warned repeatedly to stay off the roads because not doing so was “taking your life into your own hands.”
For Iowa’s pheasant and quail, the storm and this winter continues to be a life and death event.
The storm’s path dumped heavy snow on top of existing ice crusted drifts and blew it with 50 mph winds filling in every ditch, fencerow and CRP field. About the only relief is available in the cattails or winter shelter belts, if they’re available.
“This deep snow cover has buried all food for quail and most of it for pheasants,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Areas with good winter cover adjacent to food plots are likely the spots where we'll see better survival. Landowners managing for pheasant and quail should include food plots as part of their strategy.”
What will the impact be on northern Iowa’s pheasant population and southern Iowa’s quail? A quick survey of area wildlife biologists settled on one theme: Not Good.
Across southeast Iowa, frequent winter storms have created a snow and ice layered lasagna making it difficult for birds to find food. In southwest Iowa, two feet of snow on top of an inch of ice likely marks the end of the 2-3 year run of record quail population.
While winter claims some wildlife every year, the impacts this winter will be most heavily felt by pheasants and quail.
“I expect we'll see significant declines in both pheasant and quail this coming year,” Bogenschutz said. “It’s the toughest winter we've seen since 2013-14.”