St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pheasant Behavior changing?

Boss of the Bass Lake Pheasant Commune?
For about a month or so, since I noticed a few pheasants coming into the orchard to scratch around in the snow to find fallen apples, I have been feeding a little corn each morning, both to enjoy watching them as well as giving them a little free food in this hard winter.  

Most mornings, 10-13 show up and spend 30 minutes eating.   I spread the corn out under several apple trees, so there is overhead cover.   

The pheasants fly in from the north about the time the sun comes up, first landing in a row of trees along the road, pausing a few minutes and then running 50 feet to the next group of trees where I have spread 4 quarts of crack, shelled corn with a few sunflower seeds mixed in.  I spread it widely and thinly under several of the full size apple trees, trying to give an uncrowded feeding area, all under cover, and making it difficult for the deer to find easy pickings.  

Each night, about dusk, 1-7 deer have started to show up to browse on the apple trees (and the branches on the ground from my pruning efforts), and to pick up the remaining scattered corn.  The area under the trees is packed down from deer and pheasants, so has a hard crust--although every week a few inches of new snow build it higher.  

This morning, still 31 degrees after 2 days that got up to 40 and days fast approaching 11 hours of light, I noticed a different behavior.  

One large male flew in at 7:15 am to the lower row.  He waited 2 minutes, then flew up into one of those apple trees, about 4 feet off the ground and perched there for another few minutes, then flew into the feeding trees, landing on the ground and carefully looking all around, began feeding.  He was alone for over 5 minutes. 

Another pheasant
Across the driveway in the further trees is the feeding area

Feeding area on the right, row to left is where the pheasants come into the orchard, hide out, and leave. 
flew in about 7:25 and stayed in the lower row.  Then over then next 5 minutes 8 more flew in; one group of four, and the others coming in gradually, all from the north.  Each stayed for a while in the lower row, moving west down the row until just south of the feeding plot.  Then each made a dash for the food, and began eating.  

When several were in the feeding area, the original big male started rushing around chasing away other males--one ran off, one flew a short distance away, and after about 5 minutes of this, all of the pheasants except the male (I think it was the original one), were gone from the food plot, back into the shelter row.  

Another five minutes and they were all back feeding again, and a few minutes later, all were back in the shelter row, then all gone.  I didn't see anything that scared them.  Possibly they had all they wanted to eat, as each could have quickly picked up all the food they could fill in their crops in a few minutes.  

Speculations:   Possibly the warm weather has started some territorial behavior by the males.  I had noticed a little of this before, but not so pronounced as this morning.    

For two mornings, the pheasants came in before I got out to spread the corn (they used to come in about 8 am, but seem to follow the sunrise and are coming earlier.)   Those two days, there was not much food available, as the blue jays, crows, and other birds ate on it all day and the deer in the evening.  Possibly with a scarcity of food for a couple of days, some survival of the fittest is being played out.  (I purposely got up and spread the food at 6:45 am, before full morning light).  
Post meal warmup on a -20 day in the lower cover row

View out the "picture window" Mom had put in the old house 40 years ago so she had some light.  On the left is a covered deck with a wheelchair ramp put in for Dad back in 2003 when his Parkinsons got so he used a wheel chair and scooter.  The tree just beyond the deck is a Catalpa, leaning heavily to the north.  Catalpa's are at the northern edge of their range, and don't make very good trees here, freezing off many years, but always trying again from the root.  They are a beautiful late blooming tree with huge leaves and full of long seed filled beans that nothing seems to eat.  

The other wildlife activity picking up in the big old farmhouse--box elder bugs and asian beetles are crawling out of the wood-work and onto the south windows attempting to get outside.  Some have shown up each day of the winter, but just 2 or 3.   Yesterday I personally wiped out 17 box elder bugs and 3 ladybugs desperately trying to get outside.   I suppose I should have practiced catch and release, but letting them outside this winter would have surely been a hardship.   

I think they spend all fall trying to get into the house and then all winter trying to get back out with increasing desperation as spring arrives.  

The puddle on the sidewalk was firming up early this morning; the weathermen in a tizzy over coming snow, I have gassed up the tractor and snowblower, so let it come.  By now, 6-12 inches of new snow is barely noticeable.  

I have been filming the pheasants coming into the orchard in the morning.  Set my camera on a tripod, zoom it into the area I want, and leave it sit pointed out the east window.  Lots of film but so far, very little useable action.  Eventually I hope to select and combine the interesting parts into a short video.