posted on November 01, 2004 00:00
Phun with pheasants and other fowl
For the Daily Record/Sunday News
Sunday, October 31, 2004
Members of the York Chapter No. 67, Izaak Walton League, released more than 25 cockbirds this past week on the gamelands near York New Salem. The release comes as the culmination of the Ike’s annual project to rear and release pheasants to public hunting grounds.
Last May, club members picked up 160 day-old chicks at the Game Commission hatchery in Montoursville. The chicks are donated by the commission but feed and rearing expenses are provided by the Ikes sportsmen.
Dwayne Stauffer, project chairman, said the chicks were housed inside a brooder house for six weeks, and then released to an outdoor 60-foot by 60-foot pen for another eight weeks. About 10 percent of the chicks are normally lost as they mature, but weather and predators also take their toll.
This year, Stauffer and his committee worked to rebuild portions of the pen to keep weasels and other predators away from the young birds. Still, there were losses, but the club is anxious to improve efforts next year.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission currently operates four game farms and distributes about 200,000 ringnecks throughout the state. The PGC will stock more than 5100 cockbirds and 460 hens in York County this fall on State Game Lands and other areas open to public hunting.
Most of these birds will be released on SGL 83 and SGL 181 near the Susquehanna River in the southeast or on SGL 242 and SGL 243 in the northern corner of the county.
The Game Commission also releases pheasants at Codorus State Park and the Indian Rock Dam area. Releases for the Youth Hunt and preseason stocking took place earlier this month.
The first in-season release occurred last week. Two more in-season stockings are scheduled for each of the next two weeks. The regular pheasant season opened Oct. 23 and will close Nov. 27.
The two late seasons run from Dec. 13-23 and Dec. 27 to Feb. 5.
Ring-necked pheasants, natives of Asia, were first successfully released in Pennsylvania in 1892, and the young Game Commission began releases by 1915.
Pheasants became well established in agricultural areas of southeast Pennsylvania over the next several decades with natural reproduction and booming populations. Farmland in the early part of the last century provided ideal pheasant habitat.
The birds reached their peak in the 1960s and early 1970s. In 1971, more than 1.3 million pheasants were harvested in Pennsylvania. But those times are gone.
During the last 30 years, Pennsylvania’s wild pheasant population has dropped dramatically. Changing agricultural practices including loss of fencerows and more intensive farming practices such as fall tilling to bury crop residue remove pheasant habitat.
Development and urban sprawl also fragment remaining farmlands so that pheasant broods cannot easily disperse to new areas with suitable habitat. Ironically, the southeast corner of the state with the best agricultural area, and the best habitat for pheasants, has experienced the most sprawl and development.
Despite the population declines since the 1970s, the Atlas of Breeding Birds in Pennsylvania, with surveys conducted during the 1980s, found breeding pheasants widespread across the state.
Results of the new Atlas project, just now getting underway, should give us more information on the ringneck population and whether it continues to decline or remains steady.
Meanwhile, healthy populations of naturally reproducing pheasants continue to thrive in agricultural areas of the Midwest. In Pennsylvania, most harvested birds are stocked.
So, if you’re old enough to remember those good days afield in the ’60s and ’70s, cherish the memories while you get healthy exercise looking for one of the birds stocked for you through the hard efforts of the Ikes.
Bill Einsig writes an outdoors column for the Sunday News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.