by Alex Forsythe
It’s the holiday season, so game birds are on the minds of everyone from hunters to decorators. We have several game birds in Indiana, but one of the most beautiful is the Ring-necked Pheasant.
Ring-necked Pheasants seem natural in our landscape, but they are not native to the United States. According to Indiana’s Fish and Wildlife “Indiana became involved in pheasant stocking around 1900, and the wild pheasants that we have today are the descendants of decades of experimental releases. Our Hoosier pheasants are of primarily Chinese descent”.
Pheasants are ground-dwelling birds, but they can fly quite well, especially in short bursts. Their powerful breast muscles allow them to become airborne quickly and fly at nearly 40 miles per hour. I’ve watched pheasants fly for long distances with a tail wind, but other people have seen them fly much further; observers reported watching a pheasant fly four miles across a lake in 1941!
According to Pheasants Forever, Indiana’s population of pheasants “have had a tough go of it in recent years, with declining habitat and poor weather.” Pheasant populations are greatly affected by blizzards and unusually cold weather, but clean farming and mowing practices take the biggest toll by causing loss of habitat. Pheasants need tall grasses and grains during nesting season (April to August), while fencerows, thickets, and wetlands with cattails are helpful during winter. One of the biggest enemies to landowners and farmers is ragweed, but these plants are outstanding for pheasants. The seeds are high in protein and the plants provide excellent cover. Wheat, grain sorghum, and corn are also good crops for wintering pheasants.
In the spring and summer, pheasants consume insects including gypsy moth caterpillars, tent caterpillars, potato beetles, cutworms and other harmful insects, so pheasants are beneficial to farmers. The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service has programs to assist and encourage farmers and landowners to adopt land management practices that help pheasants along with other plants and animals. My family is participating in the EQIP program to create a healthy habitat in what used to be a field rented to a neighboring farmer. Today, we have quail, pheasants, woodcocks, and a host of other birds nesting in our little 4-acre field bordered by our scrublands and 4-acre woodlands. I would encourage all landowners to look into the programs available – many of which provide significant funds (up to 100% of the cost) to create and maintain bird-friendly habitats. There’s no guarantee how long these programs will remain available, so spread the word quickly!
Header photo by Ryan Sanderson