Wild pheasant roosters aggressively dominate protective habitat and food supplies, especially in winter. Wild pheasant hens have a tough time when shelter or food resources are limited. Fence lines and tree belts are beneficial, but large areas of tall dense brush, such as fire weed (kochia), assure hen survival. Annual populations are proportional to hen survival.
In April hens and roosters leave the dense winter cover to select nesting sites. The wide expanse of no-till cropland makes it difficult for predators to find them, their eggs, and their chicks. Wild pheasant hens make nests in previous crop residues and growing wheat. Prior to “no till” farming systems, many nests were destroyed by tillage operations employed prior to spring planting. Permanent kochia habitat areas provide nesting as well as winter protection and food supply. Wheat fields are favorite nesting sites for wild pheasant hens. Natural springs and potholes assure a supply of insects, the primary food source for young broods.
Young pheasants spend their first summer in specially harvested wheat fields. Roosters’ bright colors begin to develop in August. In September tail feathers lengthen. Identification of roosters versus hens becomes easier. No-till field operations show pheasant counts of 1 to 3 birds per acre, an ample supply for the approaching hunt season.
Before the hunt: All-natural wild pheasants are energy conserving creatures. They would rather sit than walk, walk than run, run than fly. What motivates them to move up the ladder of activity? Greed and fear. Greed for food, fear of danger. They feed twice a day, morning and evening, moving only as far as necessary to satiate. Maybe a little loafing on bare ground (or a gravel road) to soak up the sun. Then fly back to the roost when some distance from the food supply or walk back into nearby cover.
After the morning feeding both hens and roosters return to secure cover, cattails, tall grasses, standing crops, trees with dense undergrowth but not necessarily together. Frequently a particular habitat will contain mostly hens while another will have mostly roosters. Next day may be opposite or may be devoid of either or may be balanced in numbers. A keen eye from a 1/2 a mile distant could warrant a change in strategy.
Into the field: The pheasant’s greed and fear dictate some general behaviors. An individual bird alone in a particular habitat will sit quietly waiting for any threat to go away or pass by. As long as sound and vision assure that the threat is not increasing, the strategy is to sit tight. If the senses indicate the threat is increasing, the strategy may switch to evasion. Walk or run away unnoticed. If the keen senses indicate the threat is still rising, and heaven forbid, one of those devil dogs is coming, it’s up, up, and away. If a threat is approaching and the pheasant is aware how near and what direction, and suddenly there is no more sensory input, (the threat went motionless and silent) over a few minutes time, anxiety will rise to trigger the flight response.
Now imagine this habitat with a hundred pheasants. Now 3 side by sides rollup, 15 guns get out along with 3 devil dogs amid lots of commotion and laughter. What is the cumulative anxiety level of the 100 pheasants? What will they do? The first wave will depart immediately. The second wave will depart while everyone is scurrying to get into position. There could be 10 remaining but will sit tight enough that someone walks right on by, and that pheasant got up behind the walkers. Still a good time was had by all.
Being together and having fun is really what it is all about.