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North Dakota pheasant update

June 14, 2019
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Sheridan - By Darrell Meineke, Bird Farm Superintendent

In January 2017, Game and Fish personnel along with North Dakota Game and Fish employees, began trapping and relocating ring-necked pheasants from locations in western and central North Dakota to the Sheridan Bird Farm as part of an exchange program between the two states. In an effort to boost wild populations, North Dakota has received wild-caught sage grouse from Wyoming. In return, Wyoming is receiving wild rooster pheasants to introduce new genetics to the captive bird farm population.

Severe weather and poor health of pheasants in North Dakota were barriers to this project until this year. Snow accumulations late in 2018 were low and open ground allowed birds to find feed and stay healthy until January 2019 when trapping efforts could begin.

Birds were trapped at Lake Ilo National Wildlife Refuge near Killdeer, North Dakota and the east side of Lake Sakakawea inside the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge north of Bismark.

Weather was a big challenge and high winds combined with double-digit subzero temperatures caused many delays, as well as completely burying trapping sites. But the hard work and patience paid off on Feb. 5 when enough birds were using trapping sites and being captured that Sheridan bird farm employee Nate Brown made a trip to North Dakota to pick up 30 male pheasants and one hen. All birds were inspected by a veterinarian and tested for various diseases before being transported in padded crates to a quarantine area at the Sheridan Bird Farm.

The trapping effort continued through additional tough weather conditions and on March 3 another 14 roosters and five hens were trapped and transported to Sheridan.

The North Dakota roosters were mated to Sheridan Bird farm hens this spring at a rate of one rooster per three hens. This is much higher than the standard ratio of one rooster to 15 hens used at the bird farm. We knew they would be timid and so to ensure fertility, we mated them heavier and watched them for aggressive behavior towards the hens which they never did exhibit.

Breeding behavior was not observed until late April and eggs were then gathered daily. Approximately 1,500 eggs were set in the incubator on May 10 and on June 4, just over 1,000 chicks hatched. These chicks will be kept separate this growing season and marked with leg bands.

It is unknown at this point how these birds will behave in captivity and what their survival rate will be. We are hopeful they will survive well and ultimately be used for breeding stock in the future. As of June 10, they are a week old and doing very well with almost no early mortality.

The adult birds continue to appear very healthy, are very smart and extremely wild. There will be continuing challenges in caring for and raising them, since their primary objective for now is to escape our enclosures. We are not sure what to expect with regards to breeding and fertility in coming years, but every effort is being made to see their genetics incorporated into the Wyoming bird farm program.

- WGFD -

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