For wildlife, surviving an average winter is challenging enough.
When the winter includes consecutive days where temperatures don’t cross above zero and new snow arrives weekly, survival can become extremely difficult.
“Every winter we lose wildlife but in winters like this, we do expect some additional mortality,” said Tyler Harms, deer program leader for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Putting out piles of corn or grain for the deer can cause more harm than good, Harms said.
It can increase the risk of spreading disease through the local herd.
“All it takes is for one deer to be infected with a disease to stop by, feed on the corn and leave its saliva and urine behind for there to become an outbreak,” he said.
When the snow is deep and it’s hard to find food, deer will adjust biologically to the situation to conserve energy, Harms said. They will congregate in places where there is shelter and they can conserve their energy.
Those interested in helping deer to survive harsh winters are encouraged to reach out to their local wildlife biologist to discuss what types of habitat and food sources to install that benefit deer.
Many people also want to know about putting out corn and other grains for pheasants and quail.
Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife biologist with the Iowa DNR, said what these birds need most is shelter.
“Virtually all of Iowa’s winter pheasant and quail mortality can be attributed to the lack of adequate winter habitat,’’ he said. “Without it, the birds are vulnerable to hypothermia and exposure from severe wind chill and blowing snow.”
Habitat is also important in the spring to help pheasant and quail chicks to survive. Bogenschutz said the birds are amazingly resilient if they have the proper habitat.
For those interested in helping wildlife, Bogenschutz recommended they develop quality habitat on a portion of their land to allow the birds to survive future winters.
The Iowa DNR recommends a minimum of two acres of multi-row conifer/shrub shelterbelts, switchgrass and cattails next to food plots for habitat. Food plots should be between 2-5 acres and at least 100 yards from tall trees. Corn and sorghum provide the best food source in heavy snow.