Ring-necked pheasants stride across open fields and weedy roadsides in the U.S., southern Canada and the Finger Lakes area of New York State. They have graced our landscape since 1892 when they were successfully established on Gardiner’s Island, near the eastern end of Long Island. By the 1920s they were successfully established across the state.
Today more than 50,000 hunters in NYS pursue pheasants annually and harvest approximately 100,000 birds (compared to 272,000 in the late ‘60s). The population of these birds has declined since the heyday of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Factors that have contributed to this decline are the loss of fallow grasslands for nesting and brood-rearing, decline in grain farming and commercial and residential development. Hunting remains very popular and is strongly supported by sportsmen and women.
Support stems from the state pheasant propagation program. This program started more than 100 years ago in Sherburne, NY. Now they are propagated at the Richard E. Reynolds Game Farm located near Ithaca. In 2010, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation adopted a Management Plan for Ring-necked Pheasants in New York State. This updated plan consists of four goals, 16 objectives and 33 actions to be implemented and assumes the current level of staff and fiscal resources for pheasant propagation and management will continue.
Support and momentum for increasing the pheasant population is due to your average citizen programs such as the Day-Old Pheasant Chick Program and Adult Pheasant Release Program.
Male pheasants sport iridescent copper-and-gold plumage, red faces and crisp white collars; their rooster-like crowing can be heard from up to a mile away. The brown females blend in with their field habitat. Introduced to the U.S. from Asia in the 1880s, pheasants quickly became one of North America’s most popular upland gamebirds. Watch for them along roads or bursting into flight from brushy cover.
To help assist with the repopulation of this colorful bird, citizens can help by participating in their raising and releasing. Why would someone want to participate? The rearing is enjoyable, challenging and teaches youth responsible behavior. Released pheasants offer autumn hunting opportunities by providing sportsmen and women the chance to enjoy an open field hunting opportunity that is gradually disappearing. The number one reason is that people enjoy seeing and hearing pheasants.
The rearing and release of pheasants does require a great deal of responsibility by both 4-H youth and adults with a substantial time commitment. Daily care is necessary to monitor the health of the birds to ensure there is adequate feed and water for the rapidly growing chicks. The birds are brooded until six weeks old and then moved to an outdoor flight pen where they continue to grow and develop their brilliant adult plumage before being released. Release needs to be before the end of the pheasant hunting season.
Participants may choose to integrate other wildlife management strategies such as banding and releasing at different ages and on different site areas to monitor mortality and survival. This varies for different regions of the state. Assistance from organizations such as Pheasants Forever is available to help improve habitat along with cooperative ventures between local sportsmen’s clubs and participants. More detailed information on rearing these chicks can be found at dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/dayoldchicks.pdf.
Interested individuals should contact their local CCE office to sign up to participate. Chick orders are due by March 25.
Check out the program guide here.