posted on January 29, 2006 00:00
PHEASANT AND UPLAND GAME NESTING OUTLOOK 2005
Todd Bogenschutz, Upland Wildlife Biologist
Boone Wildlife Research Station
Last year, Iowa’s pheasant population declined 34% compared to the previous year. Numbers declined because a snowy winter reduced hen survival, and very heavy rains late in May of 2004 also reduced nesting success. Last June our weather models predicted this decline, and the August roadside surveys and hunter reports confirmed it.
This past winter and spring offer a bit more optimism than last year. 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 very mild, as the statewide average snowfall for was only 18.1 inches, 28% below the 1961-90 normal. Statewide April-May precipitation averaged 7.35 inches, only slightly above norm, while the mean temperature over the same period was 56 degrees, or 1 degree above normal.
Perhaps the best news for pheasant hunters this fall is the mild winter Iowa experienced this past year. According to the state's climatologist, in 118 years of records, only 13 winters had less snowfall than this past winter. Mild winters lead to high hen survival, and more hens laying eggs equals more chicks which in turn equals more roosters this fall, IF good weather prevails during nesting.
Spring nesting conditions initially were very favorable as April was normal for rainfall, but much warmer than average. Statewide, temperatures cooled off a bit in May, and NW, NC, WC, and Central regions of Iowa reported monthly rainfall totals 1 to 3 inches above normal. However, rainfall in the eastern third of Iowa was on average 2 inches below normal. Localized heavy rains were reported in Dickinson, Emmet, Kossuth, Adair, Madison, Dallas, and Guthrie counties in May. In these areas there may be a poorer nesting effort as flooding may have destroyed some nests. A number of wildlife staff reported seeing their first pheasant broods around the week of May 15th, which is early. Indications are the warm April encouraged early nesting, and early hatches are usually a sign of a good nesting season.
Based on these weather data our model predicts Iowa's pheasant population will be larger in 2005 than in 2004. Predictions based on weather data are correct about 80% of the time and over the last 4 years the models have been correct. The DNR's August roadside survey is the best gauge of what upland populations will be this fall. The DNR will post it's August roadside numbers on the DNR website around September 15th. Those with e-mail can sign-up to be notified when the roadside survey has been completed.