What Gives? Pheasant Counts Skyrocket!

What Gives? Pheasant Counts Skyrocket!

Sep 21, 2014

Pheasant hunters have some good news, heading into the fields late this fall. After years of falling counts; due to habitat loss and bad weather; August roadside counts this summer show more birds. LOTS more.

Across the 200+ upland game routes across Iowa, pheasant numbers were up 151%. Wildlife workers and conservation officers, rolling along gravel roads at dawn, tallied an average of 17.4 pheasants in 2014; up from just 7 birds last year. That’s the highest count in six years. Each of the nine regions reported hikes of 100% or more…except northeast Iowa; which showed no change.

Before you envision flocks of roosters, flushing within easy range…keep in mind; numbers were so low…they just about had to go up! The 2014 index is still just two percent above the 10 year average…and remains 57% below the long term average. The weather…past and present…play into the increase. “These increases are beyond the reproductive capability ever measured in radioed wild hen populations”, notes Todd Bogenschutz, upland game research biologist with the Iowa DNR. “This suggests that counts in 2013 and perhaps 2012 were higher than reported because of drought conditions.”

The August survey routes are predicated on pheasants coming out to dry, gravel roadsides to escape heavy morning dew in the fields. Even last year, Bogenschutz suspected that drought conditions in 2012 and the summer of 2013 led to dry soil…and thus poor dew conditions. That would undermine reliability of those low counts. “Hunters harvested almost 10,000 more roosters in 2013 than 2012. Given this information, it is likely the statewide pheasant population was closer to 10 to 12 birds per route, not 7”, says Bogenschutz.

Not a return to the ‘glory days’ of upland bird hunting, but a step in the right direction. Since the 1960s, Iowa has lost half the hay acres and small grain fields (like oats), ideal for grassland birds. As a result, grassland birds are in trouble. Habitat…and lots of it…is still in high demand.

Results of the 2014 upland survey are at: www.iowadnr.gov/Portals/idnr/arsrpt14.pdfLearn more about pheasants and the cover they need at www.iowadnr.gov/pheasants . Be ready, though, to tap your foot to the beat. Or cringe a little at the Pheasant Rap! The catchy video calls attention to what landowners can do, to restore pheasant and grassland bird numbers. It made its debut at the Farm Progress show in Boone, in late August. The video features three farmers rapping about cover as they walk plantings on their farms; plantings vital to feed and shelter pheasants and other wild species.

Warning! Once you hear the rap lyrics…you won’t forget them.