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Survival and Movement Ecology of Ring-Necked Pheasants in Northern California Agricultural Areas

  • Author(s): Ramey, Craig A.
  • Bourassa, Jean B.
  • Furuta, Michael S.
  • et al.
Abstract

Seventy-one Chinese ring-necked pheasants were radio-tracked in mixed crops in Sutter County, CA. Weekly survival of 39 wild (4 native and 35 translocated) versus 32 pen-reared birds were compared at 2 sites (~2,000 ha each) during the fall 1996 agricultural harvests. Pheasant survival after 1 week was wild 74% and 79% versus pen-reared 61% and 57% at the Meridian and Nicolaus sites, respectively. Thereafter, pooled sites survival was ~linear with ~1 wild bird dying every 2.8 weeks for 7 weeks and ~1 pen-reared bird death occurred every 4.7 days for 3 weeks. Several relocated and pen-reared pheasants joined wild flocks, and their survival improved with one of each harvested during the 1997 hunting season. Both survived >400 days. All affected pheasants changed their habitat utilization and movement ecology following the harvest of their primary cover and forage crop(s). Chi square analysis of habitat use by 30 wild and 19 pen-reared pheasants demonstrated habitat preferences were greater than its availability (P < 0.01) for milo (planted only in Meridian), weeds, and corn. Their preferences for alfalfa, beets, and safflower were equal to their availability. Rice was preferred when the fields were dry, but overall it was not preferred (P < 0.01). Also, orchards (cleared of ground vegetation for nut harvests) and fallow habitats were not preferred. Movement ecology data were separated by study site because of significant habitat differences. Home ranges (95% utilization areas) using the minimum convex polygon method to compare wild versus pen-reared pheasants averaged 74 and 67 ha at Meridian and 73 and 140 ha at Nicolaus. Daily rooster and hen movements averaged 295 m and 276 m for wild birds and 335 m and 382 m for pen-reared birds at the Meridian and Nicolaus sites, respectively. Results from the first fall pheasant study in California crops demonstrated they preferred the dynamic juxtaposition of grains and weeds for cover, shelter and forage with water. Twenty-nine pheasants (58%) demonstrated habitat preferences for grains– milo, rice, and corn. Pheasant survival was related to post-harvest habitat changes. Their home range, survival, and movements were very similar at both sites although the crop mosaic and habitat relationships were very different. These new results should be included in both public and private pheasant management practices.

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