The No. 1 Killer of Pheasants in Winter

If you have a few acres of land and concern for the wildlife inhabiting it, you’re no doubt wondering how they’ve fared these last few months as winter winds down. December to March can be tough months for animals to make a living, and Disney is not reality—for many species, starvation is a key variable in winter mortality.

However, this is not true of the ring-necked pheasant. He rarely—in fact almost never—starves to death.

The major cause of winter mortality in pheasants is exposure to extreme cold. Ringnecks need shelter, primarily to keep them warm and secondarily as a defense against predation. A Facebook post by the Douglas County, Minn., Pheasants Forever Chapter is very insightful:

"Pheasants will spend their winter nights roosting in grass cover or wetlands. The dead grass of roosting cover makes a nice insulated bed which protects the birds from the wind. While the temperature near their beds may be 0F, the 20 mph wind three feet above their heads produces a -39F windchill. To survive the 0F in the grass, the pheasants must use 22.42 kcal of energy each hour. Without the grass cover, the pheasant needs 28.01 kcal each hour to survive the -39F windchill. That is an increased metabolic need of 25% without the grass cover. It is difficult enough trying to survive a 16-hour night without also having to burn 25% more energy to do it. The use of shelterbelts and woody draws as loafing cover provides even greater energy benefits than roosting cover. Not only does a well-designed tree belt negate the energy costs of windchill, it produces a warmer temperature inside the belt than outside the belt. With the still air inside a belt and the solar collection ability of dark colored conifers, the temperature within a belt can be 5F warmer than the surrounding air. In such a belt, pheasants can survive with 3 percent less energy."

So, if you want to help pheasants, plant dense, shelter-type cover such as switch grasses, shrubs and evergreens. Not only will you help the pheasants on your property survive winter’s extreme cold, but you might even attract a few birds from surrounding areas. Studies show that pheasants will travel up to two miles to find good winter cover.

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