Island pheasant population thought to be making slow but steady progress

Colin MacLean
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SUMMERSIDE – Where are all the pheasants?

It’s been seven years since Prince Edward Island started trying to reintroduce the colourful game birds back into the province’s forests and fields. But despite a lot of dedication to the cause from some local birders, getting a population to take root has been problematic.

“It’s been a tough old go, for sure,” said Carl Hansen, one of the driving forces behind the reintroduction efforts and a member of the local chapter of the lead group, Pheasants Forever.

Hansen estimates about 400 captured wild pheasants have been released here since 2007.

The original goal was to release 500 birds over five years.

Originally, Pheasants Forever, supported by the provincial wildlife office and the P.E.I. Wildlife Conservation Fund, had permission from the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick government’s to trap and relocate 100 birds from each province annually.

Their goal was to have an established population of about 2,000 birds within 10 years. The hope was to eventually see a hunting season.

However, in 2011 New Brunswick declined to renew its trapping permit and Nova Scotia decreased its allowable quota down to 75.

To further complicate matters, pheasants can only be captured with any great success in winter, and even then, it’s with a degree of difficulty.

The number of birds released on P.E.I. in recent years has been about 50 annually and Hansen estimates about a 50 per cent mortality rate.

But he and his like-minded colleagues continue to be optimistic about the bird’s future on P.E.I.

“I really do think that from what we’re seeing, maybe 15 years down the road we’ll see a good population,” he said.

“Will we ever see a hunting season? Definitely not in my time. But that’s not really our goal anyway. They’re a very beautiful bird and we just like seeing them out around. They don’t hurt anything.”

He pointed out that similarly introduced birds, like the sharp-tailed grouse, have struggled over the years, but are still present on the Island.

Given time and attention, these birds will be on P.E.I. for a long time, he said.  

Most of their efforts have been conducted in the eastern end of the province, however, last winter they partnered with the Kensington North Watershed Association to release a number of birds around the Town of Kensington. They did another release this year.

Kensington Police Chief Lewie Sutherland is an avid hunter, angler and is a member of the watershed association; he’s also maintained several feeding stations for the locally released birds.

“They seem to have done very well … Last year I was fortunate enough to see the hens with their little ones, a couple of times. So I feel that they survived and spread out,” said Sutherland.

He added that there are preliminary plans to introduce more birds further west into Prince County next year, as another watershed organization has expressed interest in releasing some into its area.

Pheasants once roamed much of P.E.I.

While the birds are not naturally found here, efforts to establish a population have been ongoing for almost 100 years.

The pheasant hunting season was closed in 1963 in P.E.I. and has remained so ever since, with the exception of hunting on private reserves.

Pheasants were first introduced here in 1917 with three pairs from Okanagan Valley, B.C., but the birds died off.

Further introductions followed through the 1920s and 1930s with some survival reported.

Much of the stock introduced was farm-reared. Introductions during the 1940s appeared to be more successful and in 1947 the first open hunting season for pheasants occurred.

Details on seasons and bag limits from 1947-1950 were unknown. From 1951 to 1961, the pheasant hunting season extended generally from Oct. 1 through Nov. 11 with an average of three cocks per day (one hen allowed in the later seasons).

By the 1950s, pheasants occurred more or less in western Queens and eastern and northern Kings counties and in patches throughout much of the suitable habitat in the remainder of P.E.I., according to a 1965 report on the decline of the ring neck pheasant.

Pheasants declined after 1955. Freezing rain followed by severely cold weather was attributed as the primary cause of the decline.

Climate was cited as the main limiting factor although changing farm practices, mechanization, agricultural chemicals and predation were mentioned as minor contributing influences in the decline, stated the report.

Anyone who would like to know more about pheasants or the reintroduction efforts to P.E.I., can contact the local chapter of Pheasants Forever online at www.pheasantsforever.org.

Organizations: P.E.I. Wildlife Conservation Fund, Kensington North Watershed Association

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick Kensington Prince Okanagan Valley Queens Northern Kings

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Recent comments

  • Ken Caissie
    May 06, 2014 - 16:47

    Forty years ago or so,my Dad, Ernest Caissie, of Miscouche got some pheasant eggs from Frank Gaudet of St. Nicholas. We had a hen (chicken) that was in the hatching mode and she sat on the eggs until they hatched. We raised a few of them for eating and then released about a dozen of them into the wild. I always wondered if those ever survived.

  • Save the birds
    May 06, 2014 - 16:38

    Putting all this effort into increasing the numbers of pheasants so that hunters can kill them is insanity. Enough already, leave the wildlife alone.