Food Plots Benefit Pheasants and Other Wildlife

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Many species of Iowa wildlife depend on corn, sorghum and other grain food plots to survive each winter. As the spring planting season hits full swing, now is the time to begin planning food plots for next winter.

Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, said well designed food plots provided important cover and food to pheasants, quail and other wildlife during the significant snowfall last December.

"There have been few documented cases of pheasants actually starving to death in Iowa," Bogenschutz said. "Virtually all of Iowa's winter mortality is attributed to severe winter storms with the birds freezing to death."

So why plant food plots for pheasants if they seldom starve in winter? First, food plots provide winter habitat as well as food. In fact, if properly designed and large enough, the habitat created by a food plot is much more beneficial to wildlife than the food itself. Second, food plots allow pheasants to obtain a meal quickly thereby limiting their exposure to predators and maximizing their energy reserves.

"If hens have good fat supplies coming out of the winter, they are more likely to nest successfully," said Bogenschutz. "Food plots also provide habitat and food for many other species like deer, turkey, partridge, squirrels and songbirds."

Bogenschutz offered the following suggestions for planning food plots for pheasants:

1. Corn and sorghum grains provide the most reliable food source throughout the winter as they resist lodging in heavy snows. Pheasants prefer corn to sorghum, although sorghum provides better winter habitat. Sorghum is also less attractive to deer.

Place food plots away from tall deciduous trees, that provide raptors with a place sit and watch food plots, and next to wetlands, CRP fields, and multi-row shrub-conifer shelterbelts that provide good winter habitat.

2. Size of food plots depends upon where they are placed. If the plot is next to good winter cover the smaller (2-acre minimum) the plot can be. If winter cover is marginal, like a road ditch, then plots must be larger (5 to 10 acres) to provide cover as well as food.

3. Depending on the amount of use some food plots can be left for two years. The weedy growth that follows in the second year provides excellent nesting, brood rearing and winter habitat for pheasants and other upland wildlife. Food plots that have heavy deer use generally need to be replanted every year.

Cost-share assistance or seed for food plot establishment is available from most county Pheasants Forever chapters or local co-ops. People can also contact their local wildlife biologist for information on how to establish and design food plots that benefit wildlife.

For more information, contact Bogenschutz at 515-432-2823.