For the few days leading up to their release, the pheasant behavior changed. First, they would stand at the fence around the perimeter of their pen and stare out. Their focus, if a small animal can have focus, was external to their world, and not internal to the confines of the pen. The second change, especially in the final days, was instead of moving away from me, they began to follow me. if I walked by the pen, instead of moving to the opposite side, they would walk along with me. Most likley because I was feeding them.
I kept their feeder full, but I was also throwing cracked corn around the pen once or twice a day. This gave them something to do (scratch at the grain) and to helped build their carb stores for the first week of freedom Their choice to follow me reinforced it was time to be free. I had probably already imprinted on them more than optimal for their survival.
The day of release, I took some netting and covered the bed of the pick up, with enough left over to make a way to close the birds in the truck once loaded.
My children and I carefully netted each bird, one by one, although a few I managed to catch without the net, and moved them in batches of ten or so, into the truck, for the ride back to deep in the habitat I’ve been working for the last three years.
Once away from the roads, and the neighbors, we parked the truck, opened the netting, and the more adventurous birds immediately took flight up and away. It was amazing to see the distances they flew. Many of then flew a quarter mile or more, before landing neat timber or in the middle of open grass fields The more reserved birds cautiously took to the edge of the truck before flying. Only one or two hopped from the into the deep grass.
All 44 were released into the habitat without injury. During the rest of the day, we saw several birds exploring their new surroundings, and could hear them call off and on to each other. The following morning, a trio of roosters searched for food along the pond banks near the cabin.
By now, they are settled into the deep grass, protected cover, and learning to find food on their own.
The DNR conservation officer I spoke with suggested feeding them for their first week. Originally, when I thought the birds would move as a group, I placed the feeder in a protected spot. When I saw how far and wide they dispersed, I re-thought my plan. Now the feeder is near their fly pen, along with fresh water. Any birds who decide to return to their old feeding area can find food and water.
Next year, my goal is to return 100 to the wild, in two batches of 50 birds each. I am also tempted to keep a few — both as pets and breeding stock, and give a try to incubating chicks in 2010.