Pleasant pheasants: Why P.E.I. watershed groups want more of the colourful birds

A couple of watershed groups on P.E.I. are trying to build the Island's pheasant population as a way of raising awareness around nature and adding some colour to Island winters.

'It's great to see a colourful male pheasant on a drab winter day'

Barry Murray prepares to release one of four pheasants he transported to the Island from the Annapolis Valley this week. (Heather Harris/Kensington North Watersheds Association)

A couple of watershed groups on P.E.I. are trying to build the Island's pheasant population as a way of raising awareness around nature and adding some colour to Island winters.

"It's such a beautiful, colourful bird that just adds to the beauty of nature in general," said Barry Murray, of the Kensington North Watersheds Association.

"It's great to see a colourful male pheasant on a drab winter day so it raises everybody's appreciation and awareness of watershed issues."

Murray travelled to the Annapolis Valley this week to pick up four ring-necked pheasants that were released in Margate, P.E.I., bringing the number of pheasants released by the watershed group to 28 in 2019.

"The males are very, very colourful, they're easy to spot, the females as well, because they have a very long tail," Murray said.

"It adds for biodiversity. It's another species. It's not interfering with ruffed grouse which is a local species."

The watershed group has now released 28 pheasants this year in the Kensington area. (Submitted by Heather Harris/Kensington North Watersheds Association)

Fans of pheasants have been adding the birds in the Kensington area since 2010, with the support of the P.E.I. chapter of Pheasants Forever.

"The main reason is to try to fill a niche that has been created by the clear cutting of forests in this area," said David Cody, of the Kensington watershed group. 

"The ruffed grouse that traditionally lives in the forest here is suffering a little bit so pheasants which live in more of a scrub land area are filling that niche that has been created by humans."

Kathy McCormack captured this picture of a male ring-necked pheasant in flight at the ski lodge on Souris Line Road in 2014. (Kathy McCormack)

Cody said pheasants were first introduced on P.E.I. more than 100 years ago.

Their population has gone up and down since then, mainly due to challenges from the weather.

'They love them'

Fred Cheverie, of the Souris and Area branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation, says people in his area have become very fond of the pheasants.

"They all love them, they're fantastic, a very pretty bird," Cheverie said.

"To have them come to your feeder, and wake up in the morning and look at that on a dull, dreary day, it lifts your spirits so people in the area just love looking at them."

Isobel Fitzpatrick took this photo of a pheasant on the Baltic Road in a grain field. (Submitted by Isobel Fitzpatrick)

The Souris group has been operating a winter feeding program for the pheasants for years, providing cracked corn to about a dozen residents with feeders for the birds.

"It's one of those things that's nicey-feely thing that you do as a watershed group," Cheverie said.

"They're not in the way, they're not breaking any windshields on cars running into them. Pretty well everywhere I go, someone asks me how are the pheasants doing, where are you seeing some."

Marcy Robertson in Souris West took this photo of pheasants feeding. (Submitted by Marcy Robertson)

Cheverie chuckles when asked if there is ever any intention to hunt pheasants on P.E.I. 

"The population we have right now, to build on that and get to the kinds of numbers you'd need to do that, it's a long piece away," Cheverie said. 

"I think there would probably be a lot of public outcry in our area by a lot of people that like looking at them and don't want to see them hunted. But we'll cross that bridge when we get there."

The pheasant takes flight after being released in Margate, P.E.I. (Heather Harris/Kensington North Watersheds Association)

The Kensington watershed group has received more than $4,400 from the P.E.I. Wildlife Conservation Fund over the last two years, as well as private donations.

"It's great when they are flying away healthy," said Barry Murray. 

"These birds today all flew away really strong. It's very encouraging."

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Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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