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Field Report: Rebound Iowa

Spring turkey and mushroom hunters first noticed the change in Iowa’s pheasant population. An open mild winter helped bring plenty of healthy roosters and hens into the spring nesting season. Turkey hunters commented on hearing many more crowing roosters this spring – at least compared to the past couple years.

Caution, this spring’s success is not a return to pheasant or quail glory days. Not even close. It will take two, maybe three more good nesting seasons to get Iowa’s pheasant population back. But spring of 2012 was a start – a much needed start back.

Iowa pheasant hunters are anticipating improved pheasant numbers in 2012. Photo courtesy Diane Peterson

Next came the emails and phone calls about “early broods,” young pheasants hatching as early as April. A very warm and mild March brought on some incredible early nesting and by the end of April we had chicks on the ground. May and June just helped with more good weather for nesting birds.

The word among biologists was simple, “There may not be many hens left in Iowa, but I think every single one is having a successful brood this year.”

One of the best indicators for good nesting years is hearing the general public talk about how the pheasants are having “two or three broods this year”. Pheasants have only one brood. When we see young chicks of different sizes along the road it means that pheasants that have a nest predated or destroyed – they are trying again – and they are successful. That is a great sign of more pheasants in the fall!

August roadside counts brought even better news for pheasant and quail in Iowa. Broods with nearly mature chicks! Hatching year chicks (chicks that hatched this spring) had nearly all their adult colors. This means that first nesting attempts were very successful across Iowa – the best indicator for increased populations of pheasants in the fall.

It has been a tough 7 years. Raise a glass and toast this tough old bird – winters that were “off the charts”, springs that never stopped raining. Yet our pheasants and quail keep coming back. Give them habitat and some decent weather.

This report was written by Matt O’Connor, Pheasants Forever’s Director of Conservation Programs for Iowa. Results from Iowa’s August roadside survey will be included in Pheasants Forever’s annual Pheasant Hunting Forecast, due out in early September. To receive this preseason outlook, sign up here.

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

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11 Responses to “Field Report: Rebound Iowa”

  1. Sam says:

    Great to hear

  2. Doug says:

    I have been talking to farmers in Iowa also and they are reporting the same. They have been seeing a fair amount of birds all summer. It should be much improved.

  3. John says:

    You have to be kidding. I have lived and hunted in the eastern part of IA for years and there are no birds left – not even hens. I own 40 acres of CRP with food plots, trees, pond, tall grass prairie and not even one hen on the place – and I live 3/4 mile from 1200 acres of public land! You can’t be serious about having “off the chart winters” – you ever lived in North Dakota for a winter or two? I have, and their birds bounce back after real winters……Iowa is tropical compared to the Dakotas in winter! Trap some live, wild hens from the Dakotas and release them all over Iowa or there never will be a return to the good old days for pheasants in the Hawkeye state.

  4. The glory days of Iowa pheasant hunting are gone. The 1960′s government prgram of “diverted acres” has passed and the CRP acres are rapidly disappearing because of the inability to compete with $8 corn and $17/bushel soybeans. Black desert farming with fence to fence crops leaves no habitat for upland birds to survive in whatever kind of weather.
    There are still those among us who believe in conservation and the benefits that it has to offer: clean water, less soil erosion, and no chemicals on the land. I have great CRP ground, in north cental Iowa, covered with prarie grasses; legumes; and rows of honeysuckle, dogwoods, and evergreens; and a large food plot. There is nesting and loafing habitat. Iowa birds will rebound but only if the hens are able to successfully nest in the spring. Pheasants Forever members joined together at the Paul Herrington Marsh near Ankeny to improve the habitat on that piece of public land by removing invasive species. Good luck on the coming hunting season!

  5. John says:

    Yes Arlyn, but you have to HAVE hens in order for them to nest. When there are no hens around, how are they going to “bounce back”? Plus, these so-called “concerned farmers” have been mowing what little habitat is left – road ditches (which is a sad comment in itself) – since they are bored or have fuel to burn or something? There is a law on the books protecting against these folks mowing “our taxpayer powned right-of-way property”, but no one can enforce it. I called our local roadside biologist to complain about this, and he said the law is unenforceable. He sounded like a beaten dog because the farmers basically tell the county board what to do, and they tell him what to do. Talk about no one watching out for the environment! Nice.

  6. John says:

    P.S. I drive miles of gravel everyday that goes through a lot of ground where birds used to abound, and the only place I saw a hen with a brood the farmer has now mowed both sides of ROW on the gravel road (including cattails since it is bone dry around here) from the road edge to the field edge for miles. I have not seen the brood since. Oh, yes, and now I will wait for the “summer was bone dry so no chicks survived” excuse from the IA DNR. By the way, around here we got plenty of rain and the crops are normal…….so give me another excuse. If this was happening to our deer population or those beloved idiotic turkeys, the state would be up in arms. PF – THAT is your biggest challenge, no one cares including our state conservation agency. Until someone ADMITS that something other than “just wait and they will return” is needed, I am done buying hunting licenses and jpoining organizations like PF. I have many friends with land saying the same thing. Now, someone prove me wrong, please.

  7. @Arlyn – thanks for pointing out the recent habitat project in which the hands of many Pheasants Forever volunteers took part. That project kicked off a new partnership with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources: http://www.pheasantsforever.org/page/1/PressReleaseViewer.jsp?pressReleaseId=118806

    -Anthony Hauck, Online Editor, Pheasants Forever

  8. WCoyote says:

    Interesting article. I have lived long enough to remember the days when Iowa was the Pheasant “capital” of the country. Growing up in southwest Iowa pheasant hunting was a way of life.
    In regard to the situation pheasant wise that Iowa finds itself in today I would agree to a certain extent that the weather of the past several years have had it’s effect but not to the the extent that we are led to believe. I do not know why the powers that be promote this as the predominant cause of loss of pheasant population in Iowa. Unfortunately there is a chance that this like everything else it seems is related to a powerful political forces in our state that really would rather we turn a blind eye to solving the real problems involved. Does farming ring a bell.
    Our overriding problem in this state in regard to pheasant population decline is plain and simple habitat, habitat and habitat. We have none- compared to when birds were plentiful. PF and others of the same ilk certainly deserve credit for working toward improving the habitat situation but at present in Iowa we are losing the battle. Please spare us the self promoting progress reports.
    I believe I read somewhere that only two states have less public land than Iowa (as Iowans we should be ashamed of this). We farm fence line to fence line. Because of government subsides we now not only farm fence line to fence line we seek out any piece of borderline productive land that will allow a seed to germinate and farm it. We pass a law that is to set aside money for acquiring public land and the last I read it has not provided a dime to this point. We are reaping what we have sowed.
    It is not to late to turn this around but there are some powerful forces that will have to overcome and none of them involve Mother Nature!


  9. Arlyn L. Boelman says:

    WCoyote has put a voice to something few have dared to mention. Yes, crop prices are really good and the desire to make more and more money is the driving force for many farmers and absentee landlords. Most farmers are not willing to sign a ten year CRP contract, even on marginal land, when the government payment will net them hundreds of dollers per acre less than what could be made by farming fence row to fence row (if there are any fences left). It should be noted that although a law was passed designating a certain percentage of any sales tax increase be used for habitat, the state legislature has not passed a sales tax increase and thus no additional money for conservation.

    Not all farmers fall in to the above catagory and should not be painted with the same brush. Saturday, October 27th, will be the opening day of the 2012 pheasant season in Iowa. Our son and I will will be hunting our family farm which now entirely consists of grassland river bottom ground and some of the best CRP habitat that you could hope to find.

    I to remember the way things use to be in Iowa for pheasant hunting. It may never be that way again but most things never are. Join a conservation group, you choose, and get involved! Even if you just go to a Pheasants Forever banquet, you can make a difference.

  10. @Arlyn – thanks for your commitment to wildlife habitat conservation and for your support of Pheasants Forever. You’re absolutely correct, whatever you can do to make a difference is worth it. – Anthony Hauck, Online Editor, Pheasants Forever

  11. Gary says:

    I’m not as concerned about pheasants as I am quail. There never were pheasants in this part of Iowa until the early ’80′s and then there was an abundance of them. What do I have to do for quail to even come to my small farm? It’s CRP some crops, brushy and plenty of water. I have planted food plots for the last twelve years and have only fed deer, turkey, and goldfinch. Oh yes, and some quail after I bought and released them so I could have some quail to hunt. It wasn’t the same as wild quail. I did read a MSDS on a roundup label and found out that roundup is detrimental to two species. Quail and bluegill. I’m not an organic farmer but wonder if limiting glyposate usage would be a good idea.


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