Iowa wildlife officials predict a successful season for bird hunters after a recent survey recorded population booms in the state’s three most popular game bird species. The August Roadside Survey, conducted every year by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), found a statewide average of 17.4 pheasants per 30 mile route. Compared to 6.9 per 30 miles in 2013, the DNR said the count represents a drastic increase. Quail and partridge saw a similar increase in density by 142 and 147 percent, respectively.
“Everything did well this year,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist for the DNR, in a press release.
The roadside survey is traditionally conducted by DNR employees driving along dirt and gravel roads counting bird species and cottontails. This method is especially effective because birds will gather near roads to avoid the morning dew before they begin hunting for insects. This gives biologists a snapshot of the bird population across the state, although weather can sometimes throw off the accuracy of the survey. Bogenschultz stated that the counts for the past two years may have been affected by the prevalence of dry weather, which meant less birds coming to the roadside.
“We most likely had more birds in 2012 and 2013, but they were missed on our roadside counts due to drought conditions not providing an accurate picture. Northeast Iowa is still dry and likely has more birds than the 2.7 birds per route recorded this year,” he said.
Nonetheless, the increase in the pheasant population is especially welcome after years of drought and habitat concerns for the beleaguered species. Data from the roadside survey showed that the number of pheasants in Iowa is at its highest since 2008, and the highest ever recorded from roadside sightings. Experts estimate that hunters will harvest 200,000 to 300,000 roosters during the upcoming season, and the habitat can support an even bigger harvest. Unfortunately, the number of pheasant hunters in the state has dipped in recent years, with a record low turnout of 40,000 hunters in 2013.
“We will definitely have some good hunting near the best habitat,” Bogenschutz said. “It’s not the good old days, but it’s the best we’ve seen in six years. Is this enough to bring some hunters back? Success usually spreads quickly by word of mouth and that may bring others out. We’ll have to see.”
The DNR attributes much of the pheasant boom to the Iowa Habitat Access Program, a partnership with landowners to expand hunting and habitat restoration across the state. Biologists said that hen numbers are finally at the point where the species has the chance to make a comeback from the disastrous decline between 2007 and 2011, and that two or three more good winters and and springs will bring pheasant numbers back to what hunters are used to. Of course, the DNR is hoping that the prospect of more pheasants will lure back more hunters as well.