Sunday, January 6, 2013

Resident Pheasants and Grouse

The adult male Ring-necked Pheasant
We have one or 2 male Ring-necked Pheasants attempting to spend the winter at the nature preserve this year. I’m not sure where they came from. Most likely they were raised locally by someone and then released along the roadside. The State of New York sponsors these raise and release programs in order to keep the countryside stocked with this "game species".
The adult female Ring-necked Pheasant
The beautiful Ring-necked Pheasant is not native to the Americas. It is in fact one of several very closely related Asian species, which often interbreed. They were introduced into many different countries around the world in order to give sportsmen reliable targets to blast away at. In New York State the Pheasant was introduced over 120 years ago. At that time virtually all of the native game species had been extirpated, or have had their populations drastically reduced.

The obvious wide white neck ring distinguishes this species from other common pheasants
In our region, surviving and reproducing in the wild has never been a sure thing for the Pheasant, but in recent years, conditions on the ground have presented the bird with even more of a challenge.  Probably the species’ main limiting factor derives from a change in farming practices. As row crops and monocultures replace more traditional grain production, and with so much former agricultural land reverting back into woodlands, the pheasant faces a more difficult task in finding suitable breeding habitat.
One of the released young males is molting into adult plumage
The pheasant fared much better in the Central New York of a half-century ago, when open fields were plentiful and brushy field margins provided plenty of good cover. Of course, making it through the winter is always a challenge, especially when deep show prevails and inhibits the bird’s ability to find food.
All 10 pheasants were brought in their own boxes. We let the birds decide when to go
A few years ago, at the nature preserve, we allowed some folks to release pheasants that they had raised that season. It was a group of about 10 male and female birds. They were definitely old enough to be released; in fact it was about a month after the normally suggested release time for the species. The hope was that they would remain in the vicinity of the preserve’s wildflower meadow and reforestation fields. There are several well stocked feeding stations nearby, so we thought there’d be some incentive for the birds to stay, but only a week after the release, only one could be found in the area.
Newly released Pheasants looking rather exotic perched in the branches above us
Several years ago we had a male Ring-necked Pheasant that would stand on top of one of the preserve’s benches to give its crowing call. It was a fairly ridiculous sight and it made a good addition to my collection of animals unexpectedly found on benches. My best catch in that series was probably a Spotted Sandpiper that once inexplicably walked up and down on the very same bench.

This male is using a bench to make his territory proclamations
Several years ago, a pair of Ring-necked Pheasants chose this field as their domain

When startled, the Ring-necked Pheasant will rapidly launch itself through the bushes with a quick volley of percussive wing-beats. Often they’ll give their characteristic call just before they take off.

The Ruffed Grouse is our very own native wild chicken

Ruffed Grouse are the closest thing we have on the property to a native wild chicken. About the same size as a small chicken, the grouse is most often found around the boundary areas between woodlands and meadow habitat. The species’ camouflage is excellent, especially in late fall or early spring, when the bird’s mottled white and brown plumage best matches its surroundings. Just before winter sets in, the Ruffed Grouse develops a fringe of small lobes on its toes. These lobes are called pectinations and they help distribute the bird’s weight – allowing it to walk on top of the snow. After winter the pectinations will be shed.

The fringe that runs along the outside of the grouse's toes are called pectinations

This particular grouse was nicknamed "Super Chicken" for his over-the-top dedication to protecting his territory

The grouse will take advantage of the deep snow to keep warm in the winter. Before nightfall the bird may dive into or burrow down into the snow, where it will remain at least until morning.
The mottled  plumage of the Ruffed Grouse allows it to blend in with  its surroundings
"Super Chicken" hops up onto the ATV to check for license and registration
The Ruffed Grouse remains a game species despite a precipitous population decline over the last 20 plus years. One would hope that this fact would make an impact on those State agencies that impose outdated “management” plans on this species throughout its eastern range. It seems to me that their numbers might recover quicker if the birds cease being targets for hunters.

No comments:

Post a Comment