By Bennet Goldstein
This year, winter had a greater effect than causing Iowans to plow their driveways or shiver from the biting frostiness.
For pheasants, higher-than-average snowfall in much of Iowa blocked access to much of their habitat, making conditions precarious.
Unlike songbirds, pheasants don't migrate, said Todd Bogenschutz, upland game bird biologist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
"They can't get away from these conditions," he said.
The winter cold wasn't so much of a problem as the snow, which gave the birds fewer places to hide and escape predators -- hawks and owls, foxes, dogs, cats, and occasionally, coyotes.
Snow made it necessary for the birds to forage further from their roosting grounds.
"Now they have to go a quarter of a mile to get food," said Bogenschutz. "That just makes them more vulnerable."
Pheasants are highly visible against the snowy white ground compared to the dark landscape after a thaw.
Unfortunately, in northeast Iowa snows as early as November never melted because of cold temperatures, he said.
Less roosting spots also concentrated pheasants together during the night, which increased predation.
It didn't help pheasants that their populations were already vulnerable from a series of harsh winters since 2007, Bogenschutz said.
"It's kind of unprecedented for us to have so many winters consecutively now that the statewide average is 30 or more inches of snow," he said.
Typically, pheasant populations do not increase following winters that exceed 31 inches, Bogenschutz said.