The Ottumwa Courier

Wapello County

June 19, 2013

Pheasant population outlook 'dismal'

OTTUMWA — Hunters may have some trouble finding pheasants this fall.

Pheasant numbers are expected to decline this year, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

"Following a harsh winter, which is what we had, combined either singly or in combination with cool, wet springs results in very low production," said Wapello County Conservation Board director Kurt Baker. "One of those things alone can diminish annual production, but when we have both of those things, which it seems like we have every year anymore, it's a double whammy."

The ever-declining pheasant population is "dismal," Baker said.

"For upland game hunters, it's going to be very tough, very frustrating," he said.

There will be some small pockets of the birds, but those pockets are critically dependent on high-quality habitat.

"Without nesting, brooding and winter cover ... without those three components, numbers are going to be way down," he said.

Anytime rainfall exceeds 8 inches during the nesting period in April and May, production substantially declines.

As of Monday, Wapello County had already seen 25.39 inches of rainfall this year, according to the National Weather Service in Des Moines, just 2 inches less than the total rainfall for the entirety of 2012.

Wet springs prove troublesome for pheasants because often, their only nesting cover is in waterways, so when there's excessive rainfall, their nests are flooded and destroyed and the hen has to re-nest.

"And right after the eggs hatch, these things are little cotton balls, with downy feathers that absorb moisture," Baker said. "Those first two weeks, they're extremely open to chilling, hypothermia and then death."

Baker wonders how much longer the pheasant population can survive the repeating harsh winters and rainy springs.

"If you stack three- and four-year spans together where you have harsher winters and cool, wet springs, it's hard for any production to occur," he said. "It could knock this population down even further, and that would be pretty much catastrophic to the remaining pheasants in southeast Iowa."

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