The pheasants took to the skies as Steve Ramaker, left and his brother Clair, right, released them in grasslands throughout the Spring Valley/Wykoff area. PAULA VAGTS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
The pheasants took to the skies as Steve Ramaker, left and his brother Clair, right, released them in grasslands throughout the Spring Valley/Wykoff area. PAULA VAGTS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Once flourishing in the rural landscape of Minnesota, the pheasant has seen a drastic decrease in numbers within the last few decades.
But rural Wykoff resident Steve Ramaker is doing his part to bring these beautiful birds back to their prime.
Originally imported from China to the United States in 1881, the ring-necked pheasants were first introduced in Minnesota in 1916. Since that time they have become one of the state’s most popular game birds.
In late spring Steve and his brother, Dean, headed to Harmony to pick up their 400 baby pheasants from Wildlife and Habitat of Fillmore County, a nonprofit group, which donates feed along with the birds.
Several hours later they returned with 1,100 birds! After dividing them between themselves, friends and family, Steve had 430 babies to raise.
But, he was prepared with a building tailored to keeping the young pheasants healthy and safe.
“If you take responsibility for these birds you have to be ready for them when they come,” he commented. “They say that from the time you get these birds until the next year only 5 percent of these birds will make it. But, a lot of the time these birds die because they aren’t being taken care of properly.”
What it takes is a lot of heat, at least for the first two weeks when their environment needs to be kept around 90 degrees.
“When it’s that hot in there those little birds just flourish,” Ramaker said.
After about two weeks the birds are feathered out enough to withstand cooler temps. By five weeks they are substantially bigger and are beginning to grow their famed tails and are ready to venture into the world on their own.
With the help of his brother, Clare, Steve began to release the birds throughout the Wykoff/Spring Valley area picking spots where the environment is rich in cover and healthy habitat.
For pheasants a prime habitat consists of grasslands, cattail marshes and cropland, which provide protection allowing the birds to nest.
Unfortunately, a decrease in their habitat has led to a significant drop in pheasant populations not only in Minnesota but throughout the Midwest where the birds once thrived.
“That is the sad part; without habitat they can’t do that well out there. So all you can do is keep trying,” Steve explained. “I just thoroughly love kicking these birds out! I can remember when the pheasants were so full you could go through a field and kick up 40 or 50 birds. Today you’d kick up four or five birds.”
All is not lost, though. Groups, such as Pheasants Forever, have completed tens of thousands of habitat projects throughout the country.
In fact, Pheasants Forever chapters alone have created over 20,000 habitats for the birds allowing them protection from predators and a safe place to nest.
According to their mission statement, Pheasants Forever recognizes the impact federal Farm Bill policy has on wildlife habitat and they are dedicated to playing an active role in that policy development and implementation. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which benefits soil, water and wildlife, is one of the most important because the success of the program has proved to directly correlate with the pheasant population.
Minnesota’s roadside ditches provide a large portion of habitat for pheasants, as well. There are an estimated 500,000 acres of nesting areas in the southern and western portions of the state, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The DNR urges land owners of land along area roadways and highways to avoid mowing or disturbing the roadside vegetation until after August 1 in order to provide flowers for bees and nesting cover for birds, such as pheasants.
Bringing these birds back to a strong population will take a long collaborative effort of government agencies, non-profit groups, like Pheasants Forever and Wildlife and Habitat of Fillmore County, landowners and residents, but Ramaker has been doing his part to boost the pheasant population by raising babies for release nine separate times.
“Hopefully with this group as strong as they appeared to be we’ll have birds in the fall and spring and we’ll hear roosters crowing everywhere. That’s the awesome part; hearing them when I wake up every morning,” Ramaker concluded.