Well-meaning practice can put wildlife in harm’s way
Animal-loving Minnesotans who leave corn for hungry pheasants at this time of year could be doing more harm than good, say wildlife experts with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
DNR wildlife managers have seen corn spread along roadsides, likely to help ringneck pheasants survive a difficult Minnesota winter.
“We are getting more reports of pheasants along roadsides,” said Wendy Krueger, Marshall area wildlife supervisor. “While it’s common to see pheasants along roadsides in search of grit, it’s not a good place for them to feed.”
Feeding wildlife can create a number of problems. For pheasants, it can draw them out of thick cover, which makes them vulnerable to predators, more susceptible to disease, and more at risk for injury or death from highway traffic or snowplows. Even with a deep snowpack, the adaptable pheasant can typically survive a tough winter without the help of human-placed feed.
“Pheasants are extremely resilient birds,” said Tim Lyons, DNR upland game research scientist. “Hens can lose between a third or even as much as half of their weight and still survive a winter by quickly gaining that weight back in the spring.”
Lyons said that a pheasant can conserve energy by remaining still for 24 hours or more. They also are able to survive for more than two weeks without food.
“Feeding wildlife is generally not in an animal’s best interest,” Lyons said. “Human-habituated animals can create conflicts with people, automobile traffic, local gardens and crops, and they can also spread disease.”
While winter can play a role in the pheasant survival rate, habitat plays an even more critical part. Improving habitat is a better long-term solution to promoting long-term survival rates. For example, restoring wetlands can provide cattail cover. Fallow fields and new prairie plantings provide highly productive food sources for wildlife. DNR Researchers have found that hens can have a nearly 75% success rate in producing a brood in good nesting habitat.
Landowners who are interested in learning more about establishing wildlife-friendly habitat can learn more at the DNR’s website (mndnr.gov/PrivateLandHabitat/Prairie-Habitat.html).