Pheasants are a popular game bird that have blessed New York's landscape since first being successfully introduced in 1892 on Gardiner's Island. A later release in 1903 on the Wadsworth estate, near Geneseo, truly established this Asian immigrant and helped popularize pheasant hunting in New York. Populations peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the "heyday" of the ringneck. Today, wild pheasants are difficult to find. Most wild pheasants are found in the Lake Plains of western New York.
The pheasant population in New York has declined nearly 90% since 1970. Most biologists believe it is because of a lack of fallow grasslands for nesting and brood-rearing. Pheasant populations across the United States are driven by federal agricultural programs that set-aside large expanses of undisturbed grasslands. For a number of reasons, these programs have not been as widely available or implemented in New York. Conversely, the Conservation Reserve Program has set-aside millions of grassland acres in the mid-western states. The result there has been some excellent pheasant hunting opportunity since the program's inception in 1985.
In 2010, DEC adopted a Management Plan for Ring-necked Pheasants in New York State (PDF). This was an update of the original ten-year pheasant management plan that guided pheasant management activities from 1999-2009.
To develop the updated plan, DEC staff:
- reviewed the current pheasant plan and programs
- looked at how other states manage pheasants
- talked to sportsmen and other stakeholders
- prepared a succinct action plan for guiding management and use of pheasants in New York
The plan consists of four goals, 16 objectives, and 33 actions to be implemented through 2020. It assumes the current level of staff and fiscal resources for pheasant propagation and management will continue.
Wild Pheasant Management
Goal: Increase wild pheasant populations in suitable range through sound habitat improvement practices and regulations, within fiscal and land use constraints.
Pheasants are found on fertile agricultural lands normally associated with grain farming. According to the Census of Agriculture, the amount of land in farming in New York has declined from 68 percent in 1920 to 24 percent today. Therefore, the quantity of land that can harbor wild pheasants has been greatly reduced. Less farmland and the lack of fallow grasslands have negatively impacted pheasant populations. In comparison, the return to a forested landscape has increased species such as white-tailed deer, black bear, and turkeys. The best area for pheasant management remains a band of 13 counties in the Lake Plains of western New York. Whereas most of the fertile farm land of the Mohawk and Hudson River valleys have reverted to forest, this area is actively farmed and offers the most potential for self-sustaining pheasant populations.
What activities are implemented by DEC's Bureau of Wildlife to manage wild pheasant populations?
- Delineating pheasant range and hunting regulations to protect hens in the best habitat and to implement habitat improvements where needed.
- Working with private organizations and governmental agencies to promote habitat improvements that benefit pheasants.
- Providing input to federal agricultural policies and programs that may affect pheasants.
- Providing $10,000 annually to private landowners to establish warm season and cool season grasses to improve nesting and winter cover.
- Monitoing pheasant populations, harvest, and the number of pheasant hunters by means of the Farmer Pheasant Inventory and the annual Small Game Survey.
The primary purpose of the pheasant propagation program is to provide pheasant hunting opportunity, not to restore wild pheasant populations. The Department releases thousands of pheasants annually. Very few survive until spring to reproduce. Therefore, hunters are encouraged to harvest released pheasants. Both programs require that the birds are released on land open to public hunting.
Goal: To provide artificially propagated pheasants in areas of the state where there are limited opportunities to enjoy wild pheasants within fiscal and land use constraints.
The first of seven New York State game farms was established in 1909 in Sherburne. Today, the Department operates one pheasant propagation facility, the Richard E. Reynolds Game Farm located near Ithaca, New York. Hatching and distributing pheasants since 1927, the Ithaca farm provides pheasants for two current programs. The Day-old Pheasant Chick Program is a cooperative effort between the Department, landowners, sportsmen, and 4-H youth. The Adult Pheasant Release Program is run by Department staff with some pheasant stocking assistance provided by sportsmen.
Day-old Pheasant Chick Program - Cooperators receiving day-old pheasant chicks provide all the facilities and equipment necessary to raise and release pheasants. The birds are brooded until six weeks old and then moved to an outdoor rearing pen where they continue to grow and develop their brilliant adult plumage before being released. Approximately 60,000 day-old pheasant chicks are distributed to approved applicants annually.
Adult Pheasant Release Program - The Game Farm raises 25,000 adult pheasants annually for distribution Statewide. The fully grown pheasants are released on land open to public hunting just prior to and during the fall pheasant hunting season. Birds released at this time provide the highest harvest rates.
Information and Participation
Anyone can apply to participate in the Day-old Pheasant Chick Program. For more information about these programs, contact the Reynolds Game Farm at (607) 273-2768 or e-mail us with the subject line: pheasants. Applications must be filed by March 25th.
The following reference materials are available from the Reynolds Game Farm:
- A Ten-Year Management Plan for Ring-necked Pheasants in New York
- Video: How to Raise Ring-necked Pheasants
- Day-Old Pheasant Chick Program Manual
- Landowner's Manual for Ring-necked Pheasant Habitat Improvement
- In Quest of the Ringneck