Of Pheasant Farmers and Our New York State Wildlife

A woman called me about a neighbor that raises pheasants.  He gets them through a pheasant raise and release program. He likes to raise and release ASIAN (that is the key word here…) Ring neck pheasants, a non-native species that USED to inhabit and breed in New York State fields back in the early to mid 1900’s.  Asian Ring neck pheasants are considered a game bird and are a favorite of the hunters. Back in the 1900’s there were large tracts of open land, largely unmolested by chemical fertilizers, pesticides, roads that cut through them, new houses and sub-divisions, hay and corn and other grain plantings. Because of the large tracts of open land, the released birds were able to breed and populate these areas.  However, things changed – they changed a lot since then and most of these fields are now used by man for farming, housing, driving on, etc…  So basically, the habitat that this Asian bird needed to survive and reproduce is gone.  Yet, every year in New York people raise thousands of these birds and release them, hoping that THIS time they will take hold and re-populate the area.

I see pheasants now and then.  Despite the fact that much of my free time is spent walking the outdoors, the only pheasants that I  ever see are pecking gravel along side of the roads.  One can pull over and catch them sometimes.  Why is this?  Because they have no survival instinct left in them – they know nothing about predators from any direction – hawks from overhead, raccoons and foxes (and of course, coyotes) from the ground.  I see pheasants squashed on the road too, so avoiding cars are not in their arsenal either.  Why do people still raise and release these birds in the hopes of there suddenly being a large natural population that they can once again hunt and come home with a bag full?

So what is my point and what is the coyote connection here?

My point is this: The fore-mentioned lady called me because she is upset that her neighbor protects his pheasants with a full array of traps set around the pens and property and that he also places a deer carcass on the property so that he can lure coyotes and foxes to the carcass and then shoot them- year round.  That is of course, if they make it through the maze of traps. Every year I hear about another pheasant “raiser” who **protects** his pheasants with tall posts with “foot-hold traps on them so that  owls and hawks that fly over and perch on the post are caught by the traps, condemning them to a slow hideous death.  Owls and Hawks are  federally protected birds and if the person gets caught, they are in big trouble.  However the guy with the indiscriminant ground foot-hold traps and the deer carcass for his hunting pleasure year round is perfectly within his legal rights.  I see a big problem with folks luring our New York State wildlife in to kill them-any time of the year, and in the name of pheasant re-introduction.  The way the law reads,  even though there is a coyote hunting season and a trapping season, if you feel that you or your property are threatened in any way,by any animal, you can take that animal in any manner, at any time. ANY manner. ANY time. That door is wide open. Scary, HUH?

What cost to our wildlife are these pheasant breeders and raisers?  How many mammals and protected birds are killed every year by folks in “Pheasant Denial”.  Attempting to raise and release pheasants is akin to raising and releasing domestic chickens and hoping that somehow a wild chicken population will take hold and we can “harvest” them and their eggs joyfully. Pheasants have little sense of survival, as do chickens,  and their release will only feed domestic dogs and wild predators a nice plump, slow and easy to catch meal.

Pheasants need large unmolested tracts of field land to nest- if they survive all of the odds and nest, they are doomed as well.  Unfortunately, most of the large tracts of fields are cut for hay. The hay cutting season just happens to coincide with the nesting season of the pheasants.  The effects of tractors and hay cutting machines on a nest of eggs is catastrophic.

So, it is great that there are still things for kids and people to do that are good, safe, healthy, wholesome and keep kids off the streets and close to the outdoors- No doubt I am all for that, why must it include the killing of wildlife attracted by the sights and smells of this (and other)  fowl that have no chance of survival upon release anyway?  Safer enclosures for the pheasants while they are in captivity is simple.  Educating the children (and adults) of the many risks involved in raising and releasing a non-native fowl with a very slim chance of survival is necessary.  Predation of a basically defenseless bird is a simple, undeniable fact.  To purposely kill predators  that are preying on such a defenseless  bird is senseless.