Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist
Natural Resource Ecology and Management
Iowa State University
For those living in rural Iowa, the sight of a brood of young gamebirds, like Hungarian partridge, bobwhite quail or ring-necked pheasant, is probably a common and welcome sight on morning drives down dusty roads. Sometime during August there was a different sight on those roadways — wildlife biologists from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources slowly surveying the roadside. That’s because the Iowa DNR logged 6,000 miles counting birds and rabbits in their annual August Roadside Survey. The results released on Aug. 30 showed little change from last year; a promising result for gamebird populations that have shown population declines in most years of the survey’s 55-year history.
Survey data analysis conducted by the Iowa DNR revealed that although there were slight increases or decreases in some regions, almost all of these changes, particularly within the core distribution of each bird’s range in the state, were within the margin of error in the survey.
This year’s survey results builds on three consecutive years of relatively strong small game populations in the state after conspicuous declines in pheasants, bobwhites and, to a lesser extent, partridge that had been ongoing since the early 2000s. In fact, the 2016 bobwhite index from the roadside surveys suggests bobwhites are more abundant in Iowa’s southern counties this year than they have been since the late 1980s.
This relative stability in the state’s resident gamebird populations owes to two main factors: favorable weather conditions over winter and during the spring nesting period and the availability of habitat in Iowa’s countryside. With over 95 percent of Iowa’s land area in private land ownership, the stability of gamebird and all wildlife populations in Iowa is driven by efforts made to conserve wildlife habitat on working lands by the state’s farmers, ranchers and property owners.
Gamebirds like pheasants, quail and partridge need grassy fields to lay their nests, weedy or flower-rich patches for their young to catch insects and grow, and dense, warm cover like shrubs and brambles to keep warm and escape predators during winter. These important habitats can be found anywhere from weedy spots left by the mower, to shrubby fencerows, timber stands, or entire fields enrolled in conservation programs. Collectively they ensure the enjoyable sight of a brood of game birds escaping the wet grass on warm August mornings across Iowa each fall.
For more information about managing land for game birds and other wildlife, check the resources on the small game program website from the Iowa DNR, a recent Small Farms newsletter article about managing habitat for game birds from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, or the Extension wildlife website.
Photo: A pair of bobwhite quail escaping wet grass early in the morning. Photo by Adam Janke