“Pheasant Biology & Cycle of Life”
by Mike Murphy, NYSDEC April 6, 2007
The ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is an immigrant like many of our forefathers. Native to Asia, pheasants were brought to America by people that traveled abroad and were enamored by its beauty and taste. Many attempts to establish pheasants met with failure. It wasn’t until 1881 that pheasants released in the Willamette Valley of Oregon firmly established this popular game bird in North America. In New York, pheasants were successfully established on Gardiners Island in 1892 and on the Wadsworth Estate near Geneseo in 1903. The later release was so successful that in 1908 New York held its first hunting season for pheasants in five western counties. Pheasant populations reached their highest numbers in the 1960s when pheasant hunting was extremely popular. For example, in 1968 approximately 272,371 hunters harvested 521,389 pheasants and spent 1,220,029 days afield hunting pheasants. The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation-New York 1991 estimated that pheasant hunters contributed 16.8 million dollars to the economy that year. Unfortunately, by the mid 1970s the population declined and remains low to this day prompting many pheasant hunters to speak about the “good old days.”
The ring-necked pheasant is member of the bird order Galliformes, which includes domestic fowl, pheasants, grouse, quail. All of these species produce young that are feathered and able to walk about shortly after hatching. The term used to describe these very active chicks is precocial. The adult male pheasant weighs about 2 3/4 pounds and can range from 30-36 inches from bill to the tip of its tail. It has brightly colored plumage whereas the female is a mottled brown. The female weighs about 2 1/4 pounds and is approximately 21-25 inches long. During the spring breeding period, males set-up territories. They crow to attract females and defend their territories from other males. Pheasants are polygamous, which means that one male will mate with more than one female. After mating, the female scoops out a depression in the soil to build a nest and lines the nest with feathers and plant material. Approximately a dozen eggs complete the clutch which takes 24 days to hatch. Peak hatching takes place the first week of June in New York. The chicks develop rapidly on a diet of insects that are rich in protein. The pheasants are nearly full grow by fall and possess their beautiful adult plumage.
To help meet the demand for pheasant hunting, the first state game farm in New York was established in 1909 in Sherburne, Chenango County. As pheasant hunting and propagation continued to grow in popularity, the state established six more farms by 1946. Today one farm remains, the Richard E. Reynolds Game Farm in Ithaca, Tompkins County. The farm produces 25,000 adult pheasants for release just prior to and during the fall pheasant hunting season. In addition, the game farm distributes 15,000 young pheasants (7-10 weeks old) and 60,000 day-old pheasant chicks to qualified applicants in state run cooperative rearing and release programs. Cooperators in these programs include: sportsmen and sportswomen, farmers, rural landowners, and 4-H youth. Cooperative programs provide participants with a hands-on experience raising and releasing pheasants to improve pheasant hunting opportunity. Anyone interested in rearing and releasing pheasants can call the game farm at (607) 273-2768.
Pheasants prefer fertile agricultural lands associated with grain farming across most of their range. Best pheasant habitats usually contain brush and cattails for winter cover, grain crops such as corn, wheat and oats for food, and fallow grasslands for nesting and brood-rearing cover. Fallow grasslands are the most important cover type. Good pheasant habitat should contain 5-10% fallow grasslands. Fields should remain undisturbed for at least 60 days so hen pheasants can lay a clutch of eggs, incubate them, and care for the young. When organizing cover types food sources and nesting cover should be located close to winter cover. Pheasants traveling long distances are more prone to predation.
Funding for the state game farm operation is derived from the Conservation Fund, a fund made up predominantly from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. Therefore, New York sportsmen and sportswomen are supporting our state pheasant program.
The Department stocks 25,000 adult pheasants each fall on over 100 sites across the state for pheasant hunting opportunity.
Pheasants Forever is a National organization that is “dedicated to the protection and enhancement of pheasant and other wildlife populations in North America through habitat improvement, public awareness and education, and land management that benefits farmers and wildlife alike.”