BOONE - Many Iowa residents are becoming concerned about Iowa's upland game populations with the recent snowfall and ice across much of Iowa.
Preliminary information from the National Climatic Data Center through Dec. 29 shows that Iowa has received an average of 18 inches of snow since Dec 1, while several northeast Iowa towns have seen 20 to 30 inches of snow already this winter.
Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said he is most concerned about the ice covering a larger portion of the state. "It is upwards of an inch thick in some areas and impossible for pheasant and quail to scratch through," he said.In a normal winter, Iowa receives an average of 25 inches of snow and has seven weeks of snow cover.
"Our research on wild hens shows we lose about three percent of our hen population for each week of snow cover," said Bogenschutz. "This is not a serious winter yet, but with three months of winter remaining we could experience high bird mortality if the ice conditions persist another eight to twelve weeks, without a significant thaw to melt existing ice."
The birds are highly visible now searching for food above the ice, and people are calling with concerns. "Many folks are asking me if they should feed the birds, and the answer is that we do not recommend people feed the birds in most situations because it concentrates the birds for predators. It also does not address the bigger issue facing the birds and that is the lack of secure roosting cover," he said.
The DNR does not supply food for feeding wildlife, but if people feel the need to feed the birds themselves, the DNR offers these guidelines:
* Keep the food adjacent to good winter cover (cattails, switchgrass, or conifers) and away from tall trees that serve as raptor perches, scatter the food so as to keep the birds dispersed throughout the habitat
* Do not put food on the road as it increases the risks of vehicle collisions.
* Once feeding begins it MUST continue throughout the remainder of the winter, as the animals become dependant upon it rather than seeking out other food and cover sources
* Perhaps the best advice is to contact your local DNR biologist or Pheasants Forever chapter and plan a food plot or other winter habitat for the birds for next year. "A little advanced planning is the best defense the birds have against Mother Nature come next winter," said Bogenschutz.