The pheasant hatch happens one bird and one nest at a time. Hens are the wonderful cog that get the job done.
By Tom Carpenter
We’re all guilty of it in autumn.
Our pointing dog slows down to a creep and then locks onto a point. Our flushing dog gets all birdy, circling and snuffling through the habitat. Either way, in the perfect world in which we all wish to live, a pheasant erupts.
If we are hunting with a partner or partners and the bird explodes all cacking and colorful, “Roosterrrrr!!” is shouted in excited, exclamatory and extended fashion. Shots may ensue. Maybe one connects. Maybe one doesn’t.
Change the scenario now. The flushing bird is tan and cream colored. She doesn’t make a peep other than the beat of wings. A shout rings out. “Hen.” Businesslike. Already moving on and thinking about the next bird.
I hereby proclaim it is time to thank a hen.
Without hens and their persistent approach to mating, making eggs, depositing them in nests, incubating them, hatching chicks and shepherding birds to young adulthood, we have no pheasants gracing the landscape and becoming roosters to hunt.
With the peak of the pheasant hatch occurring from the first week of June through mid-July across the pheasant range, let’s take note of the hen’s essential role in the process of bringing young birds to the landscape. You can find plenty of lists of good facts about nests and eggs elsewhere (here is one), but here let’s celebrate five wondrous things that hens do.
Incubate for 23 to 25 Days »
Once that clutch of eggs is complete, a hen needs to sit on it for much of the 24 hours of every one of those days. Day and night. That’s a long time: 600 hours or so, less an hour or two per day when she will leave to forage nearby. Through heat, rain, thunderstorms, wind, hail, lurking predators and whatever else is thrown her way, she is there.
Lead Chicks to Safety »
After they hatch, imagine having up to a dozen little peepers following you all day for a couple months. You have to make the right choices of where to go, when to run and when to hide. That’s responsibility. If something bad does happen, you have to call and re-gather what is left of the clan and continue on.
Act as a Real Role Model »
A wild pheasant’s wildness is bred right into it. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t learning involved with young birds. How a hen acts – weaving in and out of cover, pecking for food, freezing tight or running fast in the face of danger … chicks imprint on her and do what she does. She is their world.
Never Gives Up »
The world is a tough place. Nests get destroyed. Predators can ravage a clutch of eggs (though good habitat is the best and only real foil). But hens are persistent. They will re-nest – sometimes up to two more tries after an initial failure. That’s how we get those young half-colored (or less) roosters rising in the early weeks of the season … the ones we don’t yell either “Rooster” or “Hen” at. Some of these birds hatch as late as mid-August. A hen will not bring off more than one clutch a year. But she will keep trying. Successive clutches of eggs are smaller, sometimes as few as 5 or 6 eggs. This is often what saves our hunting seasons. (Notable: A hen will not re-nest if she loses her brood of chicks. As soon as the first egg hatches, the re-nesting impulse is over.)
Sacrifices her Body »
A hen at the end of nesting season and after raising a clutch will weigh up to 30 percent less than she did at the beginning of the nesting season. And that nesting and brood-rearing season starts right on the heels of that may have been a tough and rough winter. You lose 30 percent of your body weight sometime and try to gain it back before winter returns.
What is the bottom line in all this? Nesting habitat. It’s the only answer. That is no small part of why PF is here, and what we – with your help and support and commitment and partnership – do.
This fall, when that mottled creamy-tan bird gets up, let’s all shout something at the top of our lungs with wonder, appreciation, excitement and thanks on our voices:
Tom Carpenter is editor at Pheasants Forever and can’t wait for that first hen to get up this fall.