June is here and the peak of Iowa's pheasant hatch is at hand, so what can Iowa's upland hunters expect this coming season? Todd Bogenschutz, DNR upland wildlife biologist, says don't expect a lot of changes in Iowa's pheasants numbers this year. We make pre-season pheasant predictions each year based on winter and spring weather conditions as reported by NOAA. The predictions are based on a weather model using 50 years of DNR roadside count and weather data. The model is correct about 8 years out of 10. Last year our weather model predicted a decrease in pheasant numbers, said Bogenschutz, and our roadside counts confirmed this showing a -18% decrease statewide in pheasant numbers.
Our pheasant population typically shows increases following mild winters (Dec.-March) with springs (April-May) that are dryer and warmer than normal. This past winter was unseasonably cold. Statewide snowfall from December through February averaged 36 inches. Pheasant populations have never increased following winters with 31 or more inches of snowfall, said Bogenschutz. Many bird enthusiasts were hoping a warm, dry spring would offset the cold and snowy winter. Unfortunately this spring nesting season (April/May) was unseasonably cool and wetter than normal. Statewide nesting season rainfall was 8 inches, while April/May temperatures averaged 2F degrees cooler than normal (Table 1). The state climatologist noted that April 2014 was the 10th consecutive wetter than normal April for Iowa. This year unfortunately the model is predicting no change or decline in bird numbers, said Bogenschutz. A comparison of past years with similar weather shows pheasant populations have done poorly with weather similar to 2014 (Table 2). However, the DNR's August roadside survey is the best gauge of what upland populations will be this fall. The DNR will post its August roadside numbers on the DNR webpage www.iowadnr.gov/pheasant survey around September 15th. Anecdotally staff and landowners have been reporting seemingly more roosters crowing this spring than last spring. The western third of Iowa also saw less snowfall and rainfall than other regions of the state as did SE Iowa. Thus it is possible certain regions of Iowa could see improvement this fall and other regions may see declines.
While overall the weather is not what upland bird hunters had hoped for, progress is being made on habitat for pheasants, said Bogenschutz. The USDA announced that on June 9th landowners can once again begin enrolling in continuous CRP. This is great news for Iowa's new Pheasant Recovery continuous CRP practice. This is a special practice designed specifically to help recover pheasant numbers and Iowa has 45,000 acres available on a first come first serve basis. Since there will be no general CRP signup this year, this is an option landowners with expiring general CRP should consider. For more information on Iowa's Pheasant Recovery CCRP visit www.iowadnr.gov/habitat. Iowa landowners are encouraged to visit their local DNR biologist or USDA office for more information on CRP, as may other continuous practices are also available.