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Fish and Game releases hen pheasants into wild

Kailey and Kurt Keller carry a pheasant container.

For years Fort Macleod Fish and Game has been releasing rooster pheasants raised in captivity into their natural habitat in southwestern Alberta.

Earlier this month Fish and Game released 40 hen pheasants to further strengthen the local population.

“Hopefully, they will build a resident population,” said Dwight Taylor, who chairs Fish and Game’s bird committee.

Every fall Fish and Game releases 100 rooster pheasants and many survive the winter just to find no hens come breeding season.

The rooster pheasants are provided to Fish and Game at no cost from the Alberta Conservation Association.

Taylor said harsh winters are the leading cause of pheasant mortality, followed by predators such as coyotes and hunters.

Nonetheless, hunters have found Fish and Game’s efforts to build the pheasant rooster population have been successful.

“Ninety-five per cent of the time when a pheasant goes up in the air when hunters are wandering around, those pheasants are roosters,” Taylor said. “It’s very, very rare that a hen flushes.”

While hunters know not to shoot hens, in order that the female birds can continue to breed new generations of birds, it became clear some help was needed.

That prompted Fort Macleod Fish and Game to partner with three Calgary sportsmen to buy 40 hen pheasants at a cost of $600.

“We went 50-50 with them,” Taylor said.

On May 16 Taylor, along with  Brian Chikmoroff and members of the Koen Keller family, released the 40 hens on the Greenwood Hutterian Brethren’s land.

Fish and Game is hopeful the hen pheasants are able to survive and produce more pheasants in order to build that resident population.

“These birds have a high mortality rate,” Taylor said. “It’s just the nature of being a preyed-upon species. They have to breed like mad if they’re going to survive.”

A hen lays a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs at a time.

“We’re trying to recreate what it was like 50 years ago,” Taylor said of the resident pheasant population. “The catch phrase of our club is trying to recreate yesteryear for the youngsters of tomorrow.”

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