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Fun facts fight pheasant fever

Thursday, September 30, 2004 11:45 AM CDT NICK SIMONSON

The countdown on my computer's screen saver says it all: Nine Days, 18 Hours, 32 Minutes, 14 Seconds.

To help time lapse for you, that's 7:06 a.m., October 9, 2004 - The opening moment of pheasant season. I expect to find myself walking the five-row shelterbelt west of the Simonson farmstead near Watford City at that time.

Wherever you might be at dawn next Saturday - stomping a cattail slough, working the grassy edge of a cut wheat field, or sleeping soundly in bed - here are a few fun facts about the bird that drives me, and many other hunters, mad at this time of year.

- On flat ground, a pheasant can run at speeds of eight to ten miles per hour. Once in the air, the birds can attain speeds of 45 miles per hour.

- The ringneck pheasant is not native to either North Dakota or the United States. The first several hundred birds were brought over from China to the Willamette Valley of Oregon in 1881.

- Removal of up to 90% of the roosters in a population of pheasants produces no significant reduction in offspring the next year.

- Pheasants are a polygamous species. The average rooster will have a harem of three to seven hens, and is capable of fertilizing several dozen hens in a mating season without loss of fertility. (Take that Viagra!)

- There are several rare mutations in pheasants that will cause them to be mottled or completely black, or on the other hand, albino. The odds of seeing or even shooting such an oddly colored bird are extremely poor.

- Phasianus colchicus torquatus is the latin name for the ringneck pheasant. Phasianus was the name of a river in Europe where great numbers of pheasants lived, and lends itself to the modern English name for the bird. Colchicus was the latin name of the area surrounding the river. Torquatus, loosely translated from latin, means "adorned with a collar."

- A hen ringneck can lay up to four clutches of eggs over a summer, but will only hatch one set of young each year. The primary goal of the hen is to produce young from the eggs. She will only lay new eggs if the first set was destroyed. Hens do not produce two sets of young. If juvenile pheasants seem small late in the summer, it is because they were a late hatch, and not a second set of young birds.

- The ringneck pheasant is the official state bird of South Dakota.

- Pheasant chick diets consist of such delicacies as spiders, slugs and beetles. Later in the season, as fall approaches, young pheasants turn to grains like corn and wheat, as well as soybeans for nutrition.

- In 2002, the average upland game hunter spent over $720 dollars pursuing pheasants in North Dakota.

- 592,000 roosters were harvested last year in North Dakota.

- The primary range of ringneck pheasants in North Dakota has nearly doubled in size recently thanks to improved cover through the Conservation Reserve Program, several years of mild winters and stocking efforts by sportsman groups.

- Nationally, the years of 1941 through 1945 boasted the largest pheasant populations of all time, due primarily to the lack of men hunting during World War II. Shortly after the war, the populations were put back in check by hunters returning home from overseas.

- Pheasants Forever is a group of 100,000 hunters and conservationists dedicated to preserving the habitat of ringneck pheasants. There are 600 chapters throughout the United States and Canada that devote thousands of hours to promote the heritage of pheasant hunting.

- Though 2004 roadside survey numbers are down, pheasant numbers remain high in North Dakota after reaching a seven-year high in 2003. The difficult winter of 1996-1997 and the subsequent floods of that spring cut the state's ringneck population significantly.

- The current daily limit for roosters in North Dakota is three. There have been times in the past two decades where the bag limit has been two. This number is adjusted by the Game and Fish Department as they see fit in accordance with surveys.

- Pheasant season is the latest-opening game bird season in North Dakota. The reason for this is so that young pheasants have time to grow into their adult plumage. This further helps hunters distinguish between the males and females of the species, as only roosters may be shot.

Using these facts, you can fight pheasant fever off for just a few more days until the crisp fall morning air and the crow of a flushing rooster let you know its time to take aim at the wiliest bird our outdoors.

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