Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Iowa 2021 Pheasant Count Results UP in the Central Corridor


Statewide: This year the statewide pheasant index of 20.1 birds/route is essentially identical to last year’s
estimate of 20.3 birds/route (Table 3). This year’s statewide pheasant population index is 21% above the 10-year

Figure 2. Late July drought map of Iowa.
Small Total All
Hay Grains CRP Habitat
Year Acres Acres Acres Acres
1990 2,000,000 675,000 1,951,061 4,626,061
1995 1,700,000 260,000 2,199,360 4,159,360
2000 1,700,000 198,000 1,598,662 3,496,662
2005 1,600,000 140,000 1,917,574 3,657,574
2010 1,200,000 80,000 1,637,130 2,917,130
2020 1,160,000 73,000 1,705,188 2,938,188
Square Miles of Habitat Lost 1990 vs 2020 -2,637
Acres of Habitat Lost 1990 vs 2020
Table 2. Trends in Iowa habitat and total habitat loss from
1990 to 2020, data from USDA

trend, but remains below the long-term average (Table 4, Figure 3). Counts in the NC and C regions were statistically higher than 2020, while counts in the SE region were significantly lower. All other regions reported numbers comparable to 2020 with counts showing upward or downward trends, but none statistically significant. 

This means there was no consistent trend in the counts within these regions; some routes increased while others decreased.
Iowa research indicates overwinter hen survival, brood survival, and nest success are the major factors influencing annual changes in pheasant numbers. Statewide, the total hens (-2%) and chicks (-1%) counted on routes this year were unchanged from 2020 (Table 3). Statewide data on chicks/brood (measure of chick survival) and age ratios (chicks per adult hen – measure of overall hen success), were also statistically unchanged from last year (Table 3), suggesting that winter hen survival and total nests were similar to 2020, from a statewide view. 

However, the regional numbers suggest trends were negative in eastern and southern regions and positive in the northern and western regions, and the overall statewide result was no change (Figure 5).
Overall, pheasant hunters in the Hawkeye state should expect pheasant numbers very similar to 2020. 

However, hunters in NW, NC, WC, and C regions will likely see similar or better pheasant numbers than 2020, while hunters in the other regions will see fewer birds. Three (NW, NC, WC) of the 9 survey regions reported pheasant averages of 30+ birds per route (Table3/Figure5). Iowa has not had 3 regions report 30+ pheasant averages since 2007. Pheasant hunting last fall in the Hawkeye state was very good with a reported
harvest of 300,000 roosters, and this fall should be on par with last year. Given this year’s statewide index of 20 birds per route, Iowa pheasant hunters should harvest approximately 250,000 to 350,000 roosters this fall (Figure 3). As of early September, Iowa was still experiencing very dry conditions across most of the state. If this pattern continues into October, Iowa could see an early crop harvest, with most fields harvested and worked by the pheasant opener. Hunter success is usually very good on openers where most crops have been harvested. 

Pheasant hunters, especially in the NW, NC, WC, and C regions could have a very good fall!
Northern Regions: Counts in the NW and NC regions trended up from last year, while the NE showed a downward trend (Table 3, Figure 5). Counts in all three regions were above their 10-year averages, and all averaged 20 or more birds per route (Table 4). Counts in the NW region were the highest that region has seen since 2016, and counts in the NC were the highest that region has seen in 14 years - since 2007 (Table 4). 

The NC region averaged 31.8 birds per route which was the highest density of any region in 2021, although counts in the NW region were only slightly lower at almost 30 birds per route (Table 3). All 3 regions should offer good to excellent pheasant hunting, particularly around public and private lands with good winter habitat. Better counts in NW came from Clay, Dickinson, Emmet, Osceola, Palo Alto, and Pocahontas counties. Butler, Cerro Gordo, Floyd, Hancock, Kossuth, Winnebago, and Wright counties reported better numbers in the NC region, while the NE region reported good counts in Bremer, Delaware, Fayette, and Howard counties (Figure 6). Central Regions: The WC region reported the highest counts in the central third of Iowa with 31.6 birds per route in 2021, second only to the NC region in density. The C region also had good counts with 25.5 birds per route (Figure 5). 

The last time the counts in the WC region reached over 30 birds a route was 2005 (16 years ago). Counts in the WC region are 64% above the 10-year average, while counts in the C and EC regions were right at their 10-year averages (Table 4). All 3 regions should offer good to excellent hunting this fall where good quality pheasant habitat exists (Figure 6). The WC region reported better counts in Calhoun, Greene, Ida, and Sac counties. The Central region reported good bird numbers in Boone, Hamilton, Poweshiek, Story and Webster counties, while the EC region reported better numbers in Cedar, Iowa, Johnson, and Jones counties (Figure 6).  

Southern Regions: Counts across the southern regions showed a general downward trend, with only the SC regions showing a slight increase (Table 3 & Figure 5). Counts across all three regions are some of the lowest in the state ranging from only 5-10 birds per route. Declines in pheasant, quail and cottontails were all expected given the snow and persistent ice conditions across the region this past winter. Counts in the SW and SE regions are 20-30% below their 10-year averages, while the SC region is near it’s 10-year average of 7.4 birds per route (Table 4). Some of the better counts in 2021 came from Adams, Louisa, Keokuk, Pottawattamie, Ringgold, Union, and Warren counties (Figure 6)

Read the full DNR article which includes results from the Quail, Gray Partridge, and Cottontail Rabbit counts

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