Pheasant season opens this weekend.  Families and friends will be heading afield over the next couple of months in search of what is considered by many to be the most prized upland game bird in the state.  They will enjoy some time outdoors observing nature, and if all goes well, dine on some of the best wild table fare available anywhere.

Pheasants, of course, are not native to North America.  They are native to Asia, and are a textbook example of the successful introduction of an exotic species.   For centuries, their popularity as a game bird has resulted in their release into new area around the globe.  They were released into what is now the United States before the Declaration of Independence was written.

It is interesting to note that these days, when chicken breast is in high demand, the dark breast meat of pheasant is so highly prized.  It has great flavor.  But for the pheasant, that breast meat it is a matter of life and death.  Those dark, strong breast muscles help the birds flush in an explosive flight upwards from its cover to avoid predators.

And when it comes to avoiding predators, those long tail feathers are also adaptive.  They are not just for show.  They can help fool a predator into attacking the tail feathers rather than the body, leaving the predator with a mouthful of feathers and still hungry.  And as any pheasant hunter knows, those long tail feathers also have a tendency to make the hunter shoot behind the bird.

Occasionally I will get a question in class as to why we harvest only the rooster pheasants.  That is not the case with grouse and partridge.  Hens are also fair game with those species.  The answer is, in part, because we can readily differentiate the sexes in pheasants.   Hunters cannot easily differentiate the sexes of grouse and partridge, so the management has to be different.  By the way, males and females of grouse and partridge can be differentiated by some subtle differences in feathers.

If you are interested in learning more about sexing and aging upland game birds, I have put a link to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s “Upland Game Identification Guide” along with the text of this Natural North Dakota.  As you would expect, it contains some good information on aging and sexing North Dakota’s upland game.

Link to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s “Upland Identification Guide.”

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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