I am raising some pheasants to be released into the wild for the first time this year. I decided that since I live in a place where I can do this, that I would give it a try.
I actually started with 16. I ordered 15, but as is sometimes the case I got an extra – I think this might be just a way to give the weaker ones a chance or a sense of fairness since they know you will probably lose some.
Anyway, one of them died within the first week, and another one died at 4 weeks old. Largely due to my error I believe. I brought it inside as they were picking on it, and it died a couple hours later because it stood in the water dish and got too cold. It felt the need to hide behind something and the waterer was the tallest thing in the box. Birds of all kinds have pretty small brains and they are pretty dumb. I was pretty dumb also as I knew that the bird was standing in corners in the pen and made the mistake of thinking that if the other birds weren’t around it wouldn’t feel the need to hide. It’s face wasn’t even wet, so I know it didn’t drown…just stood there stupidly until it died of cold. Though it was in the house and in a warm spot…it should have been fine.
So after that I moved the rest to their out door pen where they have a lot of room. The pen is covered to protect from hawks, and is electrified on the outside to keep out anything else that might wish to eat them. I live in an area with foxes, coyotes, hawks, owls, raccoons, etc. Plenty of predators to choose from. For the first two nights after moving them out there I would trot out there at midnight with a flash light to make sure nothing had managed to get around my defense system. The birds continued to thrive.
Normally, in the wild, pheasant chicks will stay with their Mother and siblings for 10 weeks after their birth, but they are ready to be on the move with her right away. So my original intention is to keep them until 10 weeks of age then release them. However, I read more about them and found out the pros and cons of releasing them then, and keeping them until the following Spring. So I have decided to try something with them…at about 5 weeks of age I started opening the pen gate during the day and letting them out to wander around the horse pasture (I built the pen in a corner of the pasture that the horses don’t seem to like to eat in much but it has tall grass.)
My thought is that if I wait until they are 10 weeks old and just randomly let them go that they will mostly be killed off right away by predators because they won’t know anything about the available hiding places in the area. So I let them out. Funny thing happened, they put themselves all back in about 2 hours later for their afternoon nap. (After all, they are still babies!) All I had to do was think “That was easy!” and close the gate back up and turn the electric back on.
If I had waited until they were 10 weeks old to start this letting them wander they probably wouldn’t have felt bound to their flock and would not have returned. This time when they are still wanting to stay together with their siblings makes it easier to get them back in. I can literally open the gate and walk along behind them until they see it and they will go on in on their own. (Totally different from my experience with hogs which never want to go back in at all!)
Well, this went well for about 4 days, then disaster struck. I went out there in the evening to put them in, and there was no one in the pen, and no birds to be seen. I thought, “oh no” and got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that you get with you just know that you are not going to like the answer that you find. I started looking around and then heard one of them…turns out there were 3 of them over in my old neighbor’s vacant house’s backyard…the dumb birds didn’t seem to realize that all they had to do was fly over the fence and could get back “home” to their pen. They were standing in a corner and crying mournfully about their situation. Then I went into the yard and heard another one which had wandered into the neighbor’s old chicken pen and was stuck in the weeds…it couldn’t find a way out. I had to wade through the weeds and rescue it. The others I chased around for about 15 minutes trying to get hold of them, but they were too fast for me, each one finally remembered that it could fly and flew out over the fence.
After that they all grouped up pretty quickly as a flock in my back yard near their pen, but they weren’t heading to their pen. I managed to persuade them by urging them along to go on in, and had them all locked up in a few minutes…but the head count told me that 4 of them were still missing. It was almost dark at this point. I went looking and calling for them and listening….at the other end of the pasture I found the body of one of the chicks and 2 piles of feathers. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what would attack in broad day light (which it was at the time of the attack) and take more than one chick. Usually it would be a hawk, and from the appearance of the dead one, that seemed to be the case.
I had started praying as soon as I knew the birds were all missing from the pen, and after I found 4 missing I was really praying hard. It was very depressing to see that one was dead. I couldn’t find the other 3 that were missing. Well, I prayed continuously about it, but was feeling pretty depressed at my failure to protect them.
My husband reminded me that I knew that some of them would not make it, that this would probably happen when they were released and at least they knew about Hawks now. I told him, that I knew this, but it still hurt.
Well, God is good, the next morning when I went to do my chores there were two chicks standing around outside the pen waiting to rejoin the rest of the flock, and that afternoon the other one showed up. I figure those 3 will be the ones who have the best chance of surviving as they hid the longest after the hawk attack. I have to say, that once again, God did not let me down.
I had decided to keep them in for a few days until the hawk moved on, but when I went out this morning there were 7 of them that had already managed to fly out the small opening (too small for the hawks and owls to want to fly into) in the top covers…these birds have already had a taste of the freedom of the open spaces, so they know how to get there and won’t stay in anymore. So I am back to the 10 weeks of age release….I think they will all be ready by then. It is tough to mother another species so that they are ready to survive. It is also very interesting to try it! I am curious to see how many of them I will see around the area next Spring, if any..though they may make it and still be invisible. Pheasants are very well camo’d by God’s design! You can practically step on one before you see it!