Pheasant 'imprinting' questioned

Mark NaleI enjoy reading about wildlife research — and learning in the process. So it was no surprise that an article in the July 19 issue (Vol. 10, No. 15) of Pennsylvania Outdoor News caught my attention: "Will 'imprinted' pheasants stay put, survive longer?" by Tom Venesky.

The article detailed the plans and hopes of Ross Piazza and Pheasants Afield – a group that he founded. Piazza is experimenting with a mechanical pheasant-rearing pen that allows pheasant chicks to be raised with minimal human contact.  It is Piazza's hope that, if the device is placed in small areas of good pheasant habitat, the birds will "imprint" on that location, stay there after release and increase their chances of survival.

No survivors from his first small Luzerne County experiment were ever found (no dead birds were found, either). Two more releases of supposedly "imprinted" birds  have occurred this summer. Piazza is seeking $3,000 to $4,000 for radio telemetry equipment for his study.

A plethora of thoughts and questions raced through my head as I was reading. The foremost of these were — Pheasants Forever biologists live this stuff every day, why aren't they doing the experiments? And — Pen-raised birds, no matter where they live, don't have the survival skills necessary to avoid predators and successfully nest in the wild. 

A brief article in the August 2011 issue of The Missouri Conservationist touched on this topic. A research summary presented by Quail Forever biologist Elsa Gallagher at a Missouri conference concluded that releasing pen-reared birds is a dead-end strategy for restoring quail and pheasant populations. Gallagher examined survival studies conducted in 11 states over the past 40 years.

Quoting from the article, "A 2008 study in Nebraska focused on two particular strategies involving pen-reared birds – predator control and mechanical surrogate rearing systems.  Both proved ineffective in boosting quail and pheasant numbers."

This Nebraska study followed 170 pheasant chicks reared and released from a mechanical system. Only 12 percent lived until hunting season, 3 percent were shot by hunters and less than 1 percent survived until the following summer.

I'm all for research, but if Piazza's goal is to establish a breeding pheasant population (as mentioned in the article), the evidence is clearly against him. If he just wants long-tailed birds to shoot in the fall, his money would be better spent stocking adult birds the day before the hunt.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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