My wife and I were driving home last Sunday after day hiking at Michaux when we had the bird-sighting of the day. We turned south on to Centennial Road off Route 30, came around the hard bend in the road where the farm dog chases cars for a stretch, and lo and behold a resplendent male ring necked pheasant was crossing the road. We brought the car to a halt and watched him strut his way to the other side, up over the bank and into the harvested field. We remarked at his shimmering emerald green neck, the brown torso spotted with black markings, and his long tail feathers pointing to the cloudy white, slightly overcast sky.
Somewhere in a box or an old album is a photo of my dad and my brother when he was a boy holding pheasants in our front yard. They bagged them out at the farm, sometime in the late 70s. I can remember being at the farm as a boy and having my uncles point out the birds that are native to China scratching in the dirt across the way. We would sit quietly hoping to hear their calls.
As the years have passed on, and farmland has turned into housing, our area has seen less pheasants, a much-loved bird by hunters and many a local kitchen. The Game Commission has been involved in habitat restoration and pheasant reintroduction. A study conducted by Penn State found that hunters across the state favor increasing pheasant populations as a top priority.
The state of Iowa may be a pheasant enthusiast’s paradise. In the Hawkeye State, there are more pheasant hunters than there are of any other hunter. The upcoming National Pheasant Fest, sponsored by Cabela’s, will take place in Des Moines from January 19-21, 2007. Iowa residents over the age of 18 can test their culinary skills on January 20th by entering in one, or all, of the seven categories: 1) Pheasant Appetizer, 2) Pheasant Entrée, 3) Other Game Appetizer, 4) Other Game Entrée, 5) Bread, 6) Wild Game Pizza and 7) Jerky. One entry per category only!! I would love to be a judge at that event.
Pheasant Forever (PF) is a national conservation organization that works to restore habitat, educate communities, and even has a Government Affairs representative in Washington D.C. Their Leopold Education Project uses an interdisciplinary approach based on the writings of one of America’s founders of conservation, Aldo Leopold. The PF website (www.pheasantsforever.org) states, “The LEP was developed to teach the public about humanity’s ties to the natural world and to provide leadership in the effort to conserve and protect the earth’s natural resources.”
How about some pheasant facts for your morning cup of tea or coffee?!! (from www.pheasantsforever.org)
On flat ground, a ring necked pheasant can run at speeds of 8-10mph.
Pheasants have a 30% annual survival rate and only 2-3% of population lives to age 3, whether they’re hunted or not.
The average length of a hen is about 20″ (50.8 cm) where the average length of a rooster is approximately 36″ (91.4 cm).
Pheasants are in the Phasianidae family and are cousins of Quail and Partridge.
Pheasants main predators include: Fox, Raccoon and Skunk (as chicks) and Man, Fox, Hawks and Owls.
The insulating effect of habitat moderates wind chills, thus providing a warmer and less energy-demanding microclimate for pheasants (and other wildlife).
The spring ratio of hens to roosters is usually about 3:1.
A typical rooster accumulates a harem of three to seven hens.
During the summer, insects comprise considerably more of the chick’s diet and weed seeds more of the adult’s diet.
Pheasants do not migrate. They stay relatively local all year long.
During egg laying, the hen seeks out calcium and protein. Her diet will contain 10 times more calcium than the rooster’s diet.
And, well, a final pheasant thought. I intended to keep this column on the lighter side of the socio-political spectrum: a slight mentioning of habitat loss, a nod for conservation. But, when I googled “pheasants” “Pennsylvania,” there on the bottom of the search page was a Pittsburgh Channel article about a Humane Society statement condemning Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit to a local private hunting club—the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier Township—in December 2003. Along with 9 others in the hunting party, they proceeded to shoot 417 out of 500 stocked pheasants. They also shot some mallards. It was reported that Cheney shot 70 pheasants himself.
I grew up around hunters, and have no problem with hunting, as I understand it based on growing up in a hunting family, and in an area where hunting is conducted properly by responsible hunters, for the most part. I am certain that no hunter I know would consider VP Cheney’s afternoon in western PA a hunting expedition.
You have to wonder what a man who can needlessly shoot that many birds for fun thinks in his private thoughts.
(written 29 November 2006)