When families bring home chicks, ducklings, or other baby animals as Easter surprises for their children, the end result is rarely a happy one. Few holiday pets get the long-term commitment the deserve, and when the novelty wears off the young birds that survive handling by children are hard to rehome. In some cases, these domestic animals are illegally released into the wild, to die slowly of starvation or the elements. But that doesn't mean there isn't a way to let your family learn hands-on about how chicks grow... and do your part to help conservation, too!
Foster your wild side!
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is looking for people to raise chicks… pheasant chicks, that is! Families, individuals, or groups (including school groups or clubs) are welcome to participate in this educational, challenging, project. Here's how it will work, in a nutshell. Next month, the Division of Wildlife Resources will buy 2,500 to 3,000 pheasant chicks, both roosters and hens, from a commercial bird grower. The chicks will be only one day old when obtained! DWR staff will then provide the chicks to people like you who have agreed to participate in the agency's Day-old Pheasant Chick program. This is not an easy task. If you join the program, you'll raise the cute little chicks to beautiful adults, then, before "pheasant season" hits in November, you'll help release the birds into the wild.
Why this is a good thing (even if you don't approve of hunting)
Those of us that aren't hunters might balk and a project like this that ends in time for hunting season, especially if we are prone to get attached to our feathery little charge. However, there is much more to the program than simply supplying Utah's bird hunter's with more targets. Here are some of the benefits for you, and for pheasants, of this opportunity:
- CONSERVATION! When more pheasants are added to the wild population, more survive hunting season to mate, raise young, and contribute to a healthy ecosystem.
- Hunting equals money for conservation. According to RMEF, through state licenses and fees, hunters pay $796 million a year for conservation programs, through donations to groups like RMEF, hunters add $440 million a year to conservation efforts, and an 11% tax on guns, ammo, bows and arrows generates $371 million a year for conservation. All together, hunters pay more than $1.6 billion a year for conservation programs.
- Families can learn responsibility and hard work as they prepare for and care for their pheasant together. Family bonding!
- You will need to study up on keeping a young chick warm and healthy in a brooder, and because you will be raising this bird to adulthood, you will need to have or build a pen. Those kinds of projects are perfect for family bonding, Boy Scout projects (either Pet Care merit badge or, potentially, Animal Science merit badge), Girl Scouts, 4-H, school science projects, or faith-based programs such as the Latter-Day Saint's Personal Progress for Young Women (either for Knowledge or Good Works).
- Trying to decide if you are ready for a pet? Raising your bird will take about 6 months. That is long enough to decide if your family's enthusiasm can outlast novelty, but is a very short-term commitment compared to bringing home backyard chickens... or any other pet, for that matter!
- It's fun and unique! Few people have had the chance to see these beautiful birds up close, from chick to adult! It's a bit like having a zoo exhibit in your backyard.
Help your pheasant live like a king!
Unfortunately, not everyone has the means to house or care for and house a pheasant correctly, even for just 6 months.. However, DWR wants those in the program to succeed and has provided material (See Adopt pheasant chicks) on what you will need. The material includes information such as
- Requirements for a brooding area for young chicks
- How to safely heat your chicks
- What type of feed is safe for pheasants (for instance, NOT chick starter!)
- What type of litter to use
- Preventing cannibalism or self injury
- How much space your birds need
- How to build a runway
It's crucial that you read through this information and understand it before committing to the program. You are responsible, financially, to feed, house, and care for the chicks until they are old enough to be safely released into the wild.
Flappy Flappy Easter! But wait, where are the chicks?
If your family is considering raising pheasants as an alternative to Easter chicks, you will have likely checked out the calendar to see that Easter is actually about a month before the 1-day old chicks are looking for homes. If you have children that you are worried about disappointing on April 20th, you might dismiss the idea after all. But don't act so fast! There are ways to make the project work with your Easter plans even better than chicks would. Here are some ideas to make your "Easter Pheasant" the best stand-in since the Cadbury Bunny!
- If your kids are old enough to understand, in their baskets include some "getting ready" supplies such as chick fountain or feeder, a bag of feed, a heat lamp bulb, etc. Include a note that all these things are to help with an exciting family project that you will all work on together over the next month.
- If your children are too young to appreciate finding husbandry supplies and a mystery to solve in their basket, why not give them a plush version of the beautiful birds they will help raise soon? This one is cute and makes realistic sounds, this one is exceptionally realistic and could be displayed anywhere with kids and adults appreciating it, or Folkmanis makes a very nice finger puppet! You might also find a small toy that you like (that could be hidden in a large Easter egg) intended for a dog or cat, but that would still be an appropriate keepsake for a little boy or girl. Another bonus is that your child will have something to remember their bird by after they are released.
- If little ones are getting antsy waiting for the day the chicks arrive, why not make a paper chain countdown to the big day? There are many adorable countdown chains online, but you can use the basic idea and choose whatever you like at the top. If your children are older, they might like a detailed picture of a pheasant or drawing their own pheasant. They may even enjoy finding some information online about pheasants to write on each chain strip, and impressing everyone with a daily "Pheasant Phact" as the days go by! If they are a bit younger, then perhaps a simpler coloring page of a pheasant, drawing and coloring their own Easter egg, or even this celebratory Tweety Bird might be more their style!
- Since Easter is about rebirth and spring about the renewal of life, take this opportunity to teach your children about why conservation and good stewardship over the plants and animals of the earth is so important! This is a message for those of faith as those without religion.
- Have a Family Science Fair! As the days draw nearer to your chicks arrival, help each child work on projects to learn more at their age level. They could study eggs and how chicks grow inside the egg, habitats of wild fowl, the hobby of bird watching, or anything related. Then present your knowledge to each other. Don't forget to have ribbons (and treats!) for everyone who worked hard!
- Have a weekly "Pheasant Phriendly Phield Trip!" Possible locations you could go to are the amazing Ogden Nature Center, Tracy Aviary, Farm Country at Thanksgiving Point, or Hogle Zoo. Check out Project WILD! to learn about how to study a real wetland in Utah. Some might enjoy seeing preserved specimens at Cabela's or even a Monday night (in Provo only) live animal show via the Monte L. Bean (their doors don't open till June. Also, there are no pheasants in the live show.).
If you decide to undertake this project, we'd love to hear from you!