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For Iowa Pheasants - It's Been a Long Hard Year

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By Lowell Washburn
Iowa Department of Natural Resources

The ring-necked pheasant is Iowa’s most important game bird. Pheasant hunting annually provides our state’s residents high quality outdoor recreation, contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to retail sales, and is the number one top reason for nonresidents to visit Iowa.

Local pheasant populations are largely driven by the annual success, or failure, of the spring nesting season, says DNR Wildlife [Pheasant] Biologist, Todd Bogenschutz. If spring weather is warm and dry, birds flourish. But if the nesting season is cool and wet, pheasants decline.

Bogenschutz is the designer of a computer model currently used to predict annual statewide trends in upland bird numbers. To construct his model, Bogenschutz looked at historic weather data [winter snowfall, spring temps and precipitation, etc.] and compared it with the annual, 40-year results of DNR August roadside pheasant surveys. The comparisons showed the model to be a reliable indicator of the direction [trends] pheasant populations would follow. So far [when compared to actual data recorded during annual summer counts] Bogenschutz’s model has been accurate for predicting pheasant trends during seven of the past eight years. This spring, following the 10th snowiest winter in state history, and two months of abnormally wet and cool weather, it comes as no surprise that the model is predicting an overall decrease in pheasant numbers during 2008.

“For Iowa pheasants, it was a long, tough winter followed by a cold, wet spring,” said Bogenschutz. “This was a year when hens really needed an ideal spring nesting season to bring off a good hatch and replace winter losses. Any way you cut it, this wasn’t the spring we were looking for.

“The last time [winter/spring] weather conditions were this bad was in 2001,” said Bogenschutz. “Following that, our August roadside pheasant counts showed a 60 percent decline. Pheasant counts dropped to an average of just 13 birds per route during the 2001 summer surveys.

“I’m certainly not saying that we’ll see that kind of a drop this year, but I am predicting that overall pheasant numbers --- especially in the eastern half of the state --- will be down significantly. We’ll just have to wait until August to get the real counts.”

To see the results of this year’s August roadside game surveys go to:
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