Cover Crops and Pheasant Nesting in Iowa’s Ag-Dominated Landscape

The Iowa Learning Farms webinar on Wednesday highlighted research being done on where pheasants nest and how to better manage areas to make them optimal for nesting. Taylor Shirley, a graduate research assistant at Iowa State University, discussed findings from a recent study on pheasant nesting in southeastern Iowa. The research sought to determine where pheasants are nesting, why they choose certain nest sites, and how to make cover crops more attractive to nesting pheasants.

This research project was carried out in Washington County, Iowa, due to the county having a high level of cover crop adoption and a large abundance of pheasants. Nest searches and vegetation surveys were carried out in three cover types: fall-seeded cover crops, native warm season grasses, and cool season grasses. More nests were found in the native warm season grass sites compared to the cover crop and the cool season grass sites. Visual concealment of the nests by the vegetation was an important factor in nest site selection, with more nests being found where there was higher litter cover and higher visual obstruction readings during the vegetation surveys.

The cover crop sites had the lowest amount of litter cover and the lowest visual obstruction reading, meaning that there are opportunities to manage these sites differently if attracting more pheasants is a goal. Management strategies that could improve cover crops as a nesting site for pheasants include earlier planting and later termination of the cover crop to allow for more growth and relay cropping to allow for more spring cover leading to better nest concealment.

To learn more about where pheasants choose to nest and how cover crops could be managed to be more attractive to nesting pheasants, watch the full webinar!

Join us next week, on Wednesday, May 5, for the webinar, “Can Small Grain, Soybean Relay Intercropping Be Successful in Iowa?” with Mark Licht, assistant professor and extension cropping systems specialist at Iowa State University.

Hilary Pierce