posted on August 13, 2005 00:00
Friday, August 18, 2000
Aging Upland Game Birds-By Their Wings And Other Means
One of the important joys of hunting can be found in learning more about wildlife. Many hunters can quickly determine if a deer is an adult or juvenile, but few know how to properly age an upland bird. Here are some tips bird hunters can use to help make that determination in the field. Wing Feathers Can Provide a Clue As a rule, upland game birds in Montana (with the exception of ring-necked pheasants) can be effectively aged by looking at their wings. As a group, "gallinaceous birds," such as the prairie grouse species, mountain grouse and partridge species, molt (replace) their wing and tail feathers in sequence rather than all at once, as is the case with waterfowl. As it approaches adult size in the fall, young-of-the-year birds grow wing feathers of adult size during the first, or "postjuvenile" molt. Grouse and Partridge Are Pretty Easy However, in gallinaceous species other than the ring-necked pheasant, the two outer primary feathers on the wing of the young bird are not replaced until one year later and, if the bird should live long enough, annually thereafter. The two outer, primary feathers on a juvenile bird’s wing differ in shape from those of an adult. Those juvenile feathers are more pointed at the tip are lighter in color, and sometimes narrower than those found on adults. Aging Ring-Necked Pheasants Unlike Montana’s other gallinaceous upland game birds, ring-necked pheasants often replace the two outer, primary feathers during the postjuvenile molt. As a result, immature birds display primaries of adult shape and closely resemble adults. Fortunately, nature has provided another means to determine the age of cock pheasants taken by hunters. Hens are not legal game. The spur on the back of a male pheasant’s leg often is used as a criterion of age. Early in the fall, an adult male pheasant will exhibit a much longer spur than a juvenile, with the adult’s being perhaps one-inch long and the youngster’s one-half inch in length. But because the spur of a young male bird continues to grow all fall and there is some overlap between the spur length of young and old birds late in the fall, this criterion has been found inadequate when standing alone. Therefore, the appearance of the spur during the fall often is used to back up the spur length observation. Adult spurs are visibly sharper as well as longer than those of juveniles. Being able to determine the age of the upland game birds you take may add an extra degree of satisfaction to a pleasurable day in the field.