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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Winter keeps wildlife hunt for food and habitat

Monday, January 25, 2010

(Photo contributed) Ice covered ground and lack of habitat are bringing out pheasants and other wildlife around Le Mars. With ice covering food sources, animals are searching farther for something to eat.
Humans are not the only ones ready for spring. Wildlife is also anxious for the great thaw.

While winter is generally about survival of the fittest, nearly 2 feet of snow makes it hard for all wildlife to find food, explained Plymouth County Naturalist Victoria De Vos.

"Wildlife is definitely having to scrounge for food this year," said De Vos. "The ice is even worse than snow because snow they can dig into, but ice makes it harder for the animals to get to the source."

But, the winter conditions aren't the biggest problem facing wildlife.

"Last year and this year have been tough," said Chad Morrow, conservation officer with Iowa DNR for Plymouth County and part of Cherokee County. "But for pheasants, the true limiting factor comes down to the amount of habitat first; weather is a secondary factor."

In the last few years, finding a natural habitat is becoming more of a challenge for wildlife, especially pheasants, due to more grassland being put into farmland production, explained Morrow.

For a comparison, nearly 2.2 million acres of grassland were entered into Iowa's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in 1993, according to a recent Iowa Department of Natural Resources report.

Currently that enrollment has dropped to 1.7 million acres and an additional 230,000 CRP acres are scheduled to expire in 2012. That will bring the total down to nearly 1.4 million acres.

Joe Cain, Habitat Chairman for Plymouth County Pheasants Forever, explained that even though the wildlife may appreciate the standing corn remaining in some fields, those areas only provide temporary habitat due to being cleared out in the spring.

Such loss in habitat creates leaves animals searching for cover as well as food.

"People will see pheasants along the road not just because pheasants need the grit and gravel to help them digest their food, but also due to a lesser amount of snow to dig through," Morrow said.

Or they just don't have anywhere else to go, according to Cain.

"If you get out on any gravel road, you'd be surprised by what you see," Cain said. "Pheasants are trying to look for any kind of cover or food they can find, if they can find it. So if you throw out some food for them they'd appreciate it."

Cain suggests emptying the contents of a bag of corn near a grove to make sure there's adequate cover in which the wildlife can hide.

Morrow doesn't recommend for the general public to feed wildlife because it makes wildlife be more susceptible to predation and disease.

However, he agreed with Cain that there is a solution to providing wildlife with a longer lasting habitat: plant a food plot.

"Planting a few rows of some type of grain sorghum near a wooded area would help provide adequate food and cover," Morrow said. "It all comes down to planning now for next year."

Once planted, a plot can remain as a source of food for two to three years.

A food plot is the best way to provide food and habitat for all kinds of wildlife, Cain and Morrow said.

If interested in creating a food plot, Plymouth County Pheasants Forever offers dollars for people who would like to set aside a few acres for a food plot.

Contact Cain at 712-540-3344 for more details.

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