Many Iowans are calling the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with concerns about the impact of the recent snowfall and extremely cold temperatures on Iowa's upland game population.
"Our research with wild hens shows we lose about 3 percent of our hen population for each week of snow cover," said Todd Bogenschutz upland wildlife biologist for the Iowa DNR. "With only a little over three weeks of measurable snow this winter, it has not become a serious winter yet. But with three months of winter remaining Iowa could experience high bird mortality if snow conditions persist another 6 to 12 weeks and without any moderation in temperatures or loss of snow."
In a normal winter, Iowa receives an average of two feet of snow from Dec. 1 through March 31, and has seven weeks of snow cover. Preliminary information from the National Climatic Data Center through Dec. 23, showed that Iowa received about 10.5 inches of snow since Dec. 1, and temperatures averaged 5 to 10 degrees below normal. The heaviest snowfall has been reported in northeastern portion of Iowa with one to two feet of snow.
The snow cover and colder temperatures has concentrated the birds and made them highly visible. "Many folks are asking me if they should feed the birds, and my advice is to not feed the birds, in most situations, because it concentrates the birds for predators," Bogenschutz said. "It also does not address the larger issue facing the birds which is the lack of secure roosting cover."
The DNR does not supply food for feeding wildlife, but if folks 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, scatter the food so as to keep the birds dispersed throughout the habitat
- Do not put food on the road as it increases the risk of vehicle collisions.
- Once feeding begins it MUST continue through 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, Bogenschutz said, is to contact the local DNR biologist or Pheasants Forever chapter and plant 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," he said.