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Where have all the Pheasants gone?

Posted Tuesday, August 2, 2011, at 4:41 PM

(Photo)
We are nearing my favorite time of the year, September begins the waterfowl and dove seasons, October is the pheasant and whitetail deer opener's. Every year I especially look forward to the Iowa Pheasant Opening Day. For me it's a great time to get family and friends together and enjoy a weekend in the fields. My favorite part of pheasant hunting by far is watching my Brittany, Biff weave through the tall grass and lock-in on a pheasant. This is typically followed by me missing the bird and Biff looking back, wondering how I missed that one at 4 feet away?

Anyway, the last 10 years the Iowa Pheasant population continues to decline and it seems were on track to have this bird no longer exist in Iowa. The 2011 roadside count began today and I'm trying to stay optimistic about the numbers but I don't think it's going to be good at all. In 2001 our roadside count was at its lowest ever of 13 birds counted. 2010 it was at 15 birds, so in 10 years we have not seen really any growth at all. And from what I've seen this spring and summer, 2011 could be worse than 2001.

Now I do understand we have had cold harsh winters, extremely wet springs and a lack of good pheasant habitat. But in the 1960's and 70's when the pheasant numbers were at there peak, did Iowa not have any cold winters or rain in the spring? I would find that hard to believe. The biggest problem I thought was the lack of habitat but I walked many miles of great habitat in Clay and Dickinson County last year and bagged a few birds but nothing like I should of.

Every year I keep my fingers crossed that the pheasant road side numbers increase because it sure would be a major loss for the state of Iowa to lose the Ring Neck Pheasant. At what point do we just cut our losses and begin a stocking program much like South Dakota's? Maybe a 5 year stocking program of pheasants would help us get back to where we need to be with population?

Pheasants Harvested in Iowa 2010: 238,000

Pheasants Harvested in South Dakota 2010: 3,000,000


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With the pheasant hatch in our area being completed in June and aphid spraying starting the last week in July, I see little or no effect on the population. Can anyone say "I saw a lot of pheasant chicks before the aphid insecticide was applied and now they're all dead "? If you look at South Dakota, the largest pheasant populations are in the counties with row crops. South Dakota aphid threshold is 200 aphids per plant lower than Iowa, pushing South Dakota farmers to treat for aphids sooner than their Iowa neighbors.

The most common used insecticide in this area is Cobalt and it has a LD 50(lethal dose) of 3000 mg. Nowhere near the low application rate needed to treat for aphids. It is my belief there are other forces at work here. The harsh winters have taken its toll on the population because we are missing essential elements for winter survival. First a healthy breeding population is needed, then woodlots and or shelterbelts, and last livestock. If you're a late season pheasant hunter like me, you will remember last winter when it was really bad the remaining pheasants were around livestock feeding operations or groves. Not in the middle of large CRP blocks, three feet under the snow.

-- Posted by Dana Gee on Mon, Aug 8, 2011, at 1:55 PM

I agree with many points presented...Kevin hit a good one too with insecticides...things most folks would never think of - insects - extremely important to birds! One other thing that we witness here out in the country is haying runs through all the vital times for nesting, whether you're a pheasant or a Bobolink...if your nest gets wiped out or your new brood gets wiped out, it's going to have an effect. We see it a lot and I do think it too makes a difference as well. There's a lot of issues affecting bird numbers and I don't think the last two harsh winters and wet spring/summers are helping matters any either.

-- Posted by Prairie Painter on Fri, Aug 5, 2011, at 12:02 PM

My feelings are that yes we do have a little less habitat with some of the CRP coming out but we have appoximately 60 acres of CRP along with a 20 acre marsh in the Ruthven area. We are litterally surrounded with abundant habitat, Barringer, Dewey's Pature, Trumbult etc. and the bird numbers there are declining at an alarming rate as well. I can't say I agree with the Predator excuse either. I hunt both fox and coyote. Coyote numbers have increased compared to say 10 years ago but fox numbers are way down and I can't say I'm seeing to much more racoon sign then normal and Skunk numbers are down as well. Yes the weather has not been favorable but I think one factor that has been over looked here is the insecticides that are being used on the crops. This is a 2 fold problem. 1st it kills all the insects that are an important source of protein for the baby chicks. 2nd is I think these sprays are potentially just killing pheasants. For example when soybeans are being sprayed for aphids they suggest you stay out of the feild for at least 24-48 hours??? I have talked to farmers that ignored this and have become ill. I wish this is something the DNR would look into. But I'm sure this could stir up a real mess.

-- Posted by Kevin Rossiter on Fri, Aug 5, 2011, at 10:38 AM

All legitimate points here. I don't think a few extra predators would of wiped out our entire population of pheasants in the state of Iowa. The rest of the state there basically extinct and there is some great habitat in Southern Iowa even better than around here. I have a buddy that hunts yotes all the time and he said last year there weren't that many around NW Iowa. The state stocks walleyes, perch, crappie, etc in Iowa Lakes... every year. Why can't we just make a law that so many birds get released every fall?

-- Posted by gohawks2009 on Fri, Aug 5, 2011, at 9:48 AM

Yes, Gabe, I was talking about our four county area of Clay, Dickinson,Emmet and Palo Alto which offers 40,000 acres of access. South Dakota supplements their public ground with a walk-in program where they lease private ground from farmers and in return the farmers hold off on tillage and leave crop strips.Maybe an option if Iowa wants to return to being a leading pheasant hunting state.

-- Posted by Guy Fawkes on Thu, Aug 4, 2011, at 5:30 PM

It sounds like it may be time to do a bit more Predator Calling and hunting out your way Honi. I'll bring my gear down next time I get out that way and we can give it a try in your neck of the woods. Red Fox opens in November and Coyote is open continuously in your area. Hunting is legal with a small game or a furharvesters license according to the Iowa DNR. It would be nice to see the bird population grow.

-- Posted by taltobelli on Wed, Aug 3, 2011, at 7:27 PM

I disagree with the "plenty of cover" comment. Yes, northwest Iowa is better off than many other regions of the state, but overall the state lags behind other states in public land. I don't know where Iowa's amount of land in Conservation Reserve Program ranks, but I'm guessing it's lacking, too. I don't really know how to increase it either. Budgets are tight at the National Resource Conservation Service and people are hanging onto farmland more than ever, due to the sky high prices of commodities right now. That makes me think maybe stocking the land we do have is the best option. However, it is only a viable option if hunting of predators is also increased. That's where I definitely do agree with you, Guy.

-- Posted by Gabe Licht on Wed, Aug 3, 2011, at 11:13 AM

I dont know if stocking alone will help. When I am out running my dog, I see a lot more raccoons, shunks, foxes and coyotes than I use to. More hawks than I saw in the past as well. Some people believe that the increase in turkey numbers also have an impact on the pheasant numbers. I agree that up in northwest Iowa that we have plenty of cover but no birds to show for it.Hoping for a turn around because I dont want to drive to South Dakota for a chance to see a pheasant.

-- Posted by Guy Fawkes on Tue, Aug 2, 2011, at 5:46 PM


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