"Just not a lot of birds" for start of 2010 Pheasant Season - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

"Just not a lot of birds" for start of 2010 Pheasant Season

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DELAWARE COUNTY (KWWL) -- Saturday morning, thousands of hunters will head out to bag the first pheasants of the season. Unfortunately, they may not have a lot of luck. An Iowa Department of Natural Resources roadside survey from August suggests the pheasant population could be down as much as 30 percent.

They blame a series of hard winters and wet springs. There is also a growing concern about the lack of natural habitat for the birds. Recently, several groups have come together to tackle the problem.

One example is found in Delaware County. James Takes and his family have farmed 357 acres of land since 1915. They used to raise cattle here.

"Now we're going to raise birds...hopefully!" Takes said.

This month, Pheasants Forever and the DNR are among a group of environmentalists officially turning Takes land into public ground.

"The neat thing about this property is its 357 acres, but it also hooks up with several other properties along the Buffalo Creek here, and they're all continuous. It's over 1,000 acres of public land now," explained Habitat Forever Director of Conservation Matt O'Connor.

A lack of land is one reason the pheasant population is down significantly. But it's not the only thing to blame. Even on Takes property, there simply aren't a lot of birds.

"Few years ago, back in here, we had hundreds of birds. Now, I don't know, I'd like to say there's ten back there," Takes said.

Year after year of record-breaking cold winters and wet springs have devastated the pheasant population.

"We were 10 or 11 years ago shooting over one million birds a year. And now we're probably going to shoot around 200,000 this year," said O'Connor.

Fewer pheasants also means fewer hunters. 70,000 are expected this fall. Compare that with 170,000 in 2006.

"It's something that pulls people in literally from all over the world, and we've lost some of that here in the state of Iowa," commented Mike Schmitz, the Iowa State Council President of Pheasants Forever.

But with help from farmers like Takes, Pheasants Forever is hoping to turn around the trend. Growing the bird population, public acreage, and number of hunters, in one fell swoop.

A reminder for hunters to stay safe in the field -- DNR officials said the top pheasant hunting accidents are related to not being seen. You're encouraged to wear more blaze orange than the minimum required for safety. In the last five years, 29 people have been injured during pheasant season.

Online Reporter Colleen O'Shaughnessy

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