Monday, April 2, 2012

Winter Sport

The ring-necked pheasant is a very tough bird, in body and spirit. It adapts better to man and his doings than do any of the native prairie grouse, and is more tolerant of cultivation and heavy land use—up to a point. But the pheasant cannot make use of deep, soft snow as do native grouse that burrow into drifts where the temperature may be forty degrees warmer than the outer air. The pheasant takes potluck and simply roosts or huddles in what grassy cover it can find, and such prairie cover is a snowtrap, a drift-builder. Often, in the wake of a blizzard, food is not the pheasant's greatest problem. The scouring winds may blow fields free of snow and expose wet grain—but those same winds may bury roosting cover beneath towering drifts. And when the blizzard brings heavy snow that blankets the feeder fields as well, the hardy ringneck is forced into desperate actions.

Such evicted pheasants may move into feedlots with cattle, or into barnyards with chickens. Or they may just strike out cross-country, moving as far as ten miles to better cover. This is a fantastic journey for a ring-necked pheasant that may normally live out its sedentary life on one section of land, and reflects the desperation of these birds. In a few cases, the moving pheasants do find cover. In most cases they do not, and they die, as 90 percent of the pheasants in southern Minnesota died in the winter of 1968-69.

Out Home by John Madson

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