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Survey shows small drop in number of pheasants across the state

(Radio Iowa) - The Iowa Department of Natural Resources roadside survey shows little change in the number of pheasants found along Iowa roadways. DNR research biologist, Todd Bogenschutz, says the count this year saw the average number of birds at 6.5, which compares to last year’s 6.6.

“I think part of that is due to last year the survey was run under bad weather conditions and this year it was good weather conditions — and so we’re kind of comparing a bad year under good weather conditions to a good year under bad conditions last year — so that makes it a little challenging to read the result,” Bogenschutz says.

The wet spring played a big factor in the amount of birds who survived after hatching. “This spring was not what we wanted for ground-nesting birds, I mean the wettest spring in the 141 years of records going back to 1872, and the fifth coldest on record going back to the 1800′s,” Bogenschutz says. “We kind of expected the population would go down this year.”

The August survey found the best area had around 12 birds over the 30-mile route. “Our best densities came out of the northwest and north-central regions on the survey this year,” according to Bogenschutz.

“Central Iowa had been pretty good last year, but they took about the biggest drop. They dropped about 50-percent in central Iowa,” Bogenschutz says. The north-central area saw an average bird count of 9, while in the central region, it dropped down to 7.9.

Northeast Iowa typically has the lowest bird counts, and that held true this year at 2.7. Another factor Bogenschutz keeps an eye on is the amount of land put into the Conservation Reserve Program. That program provides valuable cover for birds.

“We’re losing about 290-square miles, that’s about how many contracts for CRP expire this year,” Bogenschutz says. He says some of the land was reenrolled this spring and there was a program for highly erodable land, so some of the expiring contracts will be back in the CRP program.

The survey leads Bogenschutz to predict a hunter take of 100 to 150,000 pheasants this year. Hunters took 158,000 birds in 2012, which was a rebound from a record low of 109,000 shot in 2011.

What are the prospects for the bird numbers to return to a level where 600 to 800,000 birds are taken? “A lot of folks as me how fast can they bounce back,” Bogenschutz replies. “I guess what we’ve seen from the data is they do have the capability to double in a year if we do have a perfect winter and perfect nesting season. That’s only happened twice in the last 50 years.”

The 2013 pheasant season opens October 28th and runs through January 10th.