Public food plots provide refuge for wintering pheasants

by Lowell Washburn

We’ve all heard that old adage “In Like A Lion; Out Like A Lamb.”  It’s a time honored statement regarding the unpredictable nature of March weather.  This year, March made its dramatic entrance 

from the Lion side of the weather stage -- complete with roaring winds, drifting snow, and subzero temperatures.  Not exactly what any of us, including Iowa wildlife, needed for an official kickoff to the new month.

For beleaguered pheasant populations, it has already been a long hard winter.  Nothing really out of the ordinary, it seems.  Most Iowa winters are tough on resident birdlife.  It’s a time when local wildlife populations shrink to their lowest annual levels.  But right now, statewide pheasant flocks could definitely use an extra break.  From 2007 thru 2011, Iowa pheasants have endured five consecutive, back to back rough winters with measurable snowfall totals running anywhere from 30 to 50-inches.  By contrast, the winter of 2011-2012 was comparatively mild and overall bird numbers were able to gain a bit of ground the following summer.  This year, we’ve returned to -- well, you don’t need me to tell you what the winter weather has been like around here.

The past two weeks have been the worst of the winter as relentless winds and continuing snowfalls have caused pheasant habitats to drift full.  Forced to travel farther and farther from cover, foraging birds currently face increased vulnerability to exposure and predation.

But there are some bright spots in this year’s winter wildlife picture.  Depending on where they happen to live, some pheasants may find life easier than others.  A good example occurs with birds currently utilizing the public food plots planted on their behalf.  Maintained by state and county conservation agencies, most plots consist of standing corn.  Strategically located beside secure loafing or roosting areas, standing plots of unharvested corn minimize daytime travel and offer wildlife increased potential for winter survival.  Rows of densely planted stalks decrease wind chills while providing additional protection from predators.  Hanging ears of corn offer abundant supplies of high energy forage.  All hungry pheasants need do is literally reach out and enjoy the meal.

For those who enjoy winter wildlife photography, an early morning visit to a local food plot can provide high adventure.  Locating the best areas for viewing is easy.  Snowy, well used game trails point the way to where wildlife is most likely to enter the plot.  Arriving by first light is beneficial and a pop up, portable ground blind is the quickest way to become

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