Eight native upland game bird species. Alberta had the greatest variety of native grouse species in the world in 1905, blue grouse, spruce grouse, ruffed grouse, willow ptarmigan, white-tailed ptarmigan, pinnated grouse, sharp-tailed grouse and greater Sage grouse.
European gray partridge (the “Hun”) were introduced by sportsmen in Alberta just south of the Midnapore area of Calgary in 1908 on the Patton and Hamilton ranches.
1913 saw the first hunting season for the hun in Alberta.
The hun experiment was extremely successful and formed the basis for the successful introduction to North America.
The same group of sportsmen introduced the ring-necked pheasant in 1908 around the same areas that the “hun” was introduced. Pheasants continued to be released over the next 25 years and it wasn’t until the “30s” that they became well established.
The first pheasant season occurred in 1939 where two day, 6 bird limits was established.
During the 1940s and 1950s pheasant numbers exploded. The average annual harvest in the mid “50s” was 145,000 birds. By the 90s the annual harvest was down to less than 20,000 birds where it remains today.
The popularity of hunting pheasants led to an interest from several entrepreneurs and the Game Act of 1955 included provisions to allow private individuals to rear pheasants for sale as food or for subsequent breeding purposes
An experimental hen pheasant season in 1967, demonstrated that hunting hens had no effect on subsequent pheasant production. Hunting simply removes a portion of the birds that normally would have died during the winter (winter mortality is in the range of 60% – 80%, with or without hunting
As a result of this experiment, a limited hen season was introduced in 1971. It proved to be so unpopular with hunters that it was closed in 1973.
In the 1970s, hunting success on pheasant roosters the day following their release was tested. Return rates ranged from 65-75% and were considered very cost effective. As a consequence, the Brooks hatchery expanded to become the Brooks Wildlife Center in 1978. The Center was able to produce up to 100,000 pheasants a year for release to the wild. Most of the cocks and melanistic pheasants of both sexes were used for put and take releases on Buck for Wildlife properties.
In the mid 1990s Fish and Wildlife could no longer provide sufficient funding and no longer felt the need to operate the Brooks Wildlife Center. Under the banner of privatization, the Center was sold eventually to private investors who created the Canadian Pheasant Company with the provision that some of the birds produced would continue to be released for public hunting.
The Alberta Conservation Association agreed to take over the pheasant release program in 2014, with the overall aim to provide greater hunting opportunity for all Albertans.
PHEASANTS FOREVER IN ALBERTA
Pheasants Forever Calgary chapter was formed at the same time as Pheasants Forever Canada Inc. in response to the continuing decline of ring-necked pheasants and other upland game bird populations in Southern Alberta. It has grown to be one of the largest chapters in all of North America based on membership and monies raised for upland habitat restoration.
Pheasants Forever Canada Inc. was formed in 1992 by a small group dedicated to improving habitat for upland game birds in Western Canada. Pheasants Forever Canada is incorporated as a non-profit organization and is registered as a Canadian charitable organization able to issue tax receipts to donors. It is affiliated with Pheasants Forever Inc.
The largest and most successful habitat initiative of the Pheasants Forever Calgary chapter was the Partners in Habitat Development program (PHD). Founded in 1998 by Pheasants Forever Calgary and the Eastern Irrigation District (EID) located in Brooks, the program helped to redevelop and enhance wildlife habitat throughout the cultivated regions of southern Alberta, primarily on private land. Six of the largest irrigation districts in southern Alberta participated in the program representing over 1.1 million acres of land. Over 300 landowners (on over 500 different project sites) have invited the PHD program to implement planting, fencing and irrigation canal rehabilitation projects on their land to help increase the quality and quantity of wildlife habitat. Between 1998 and 2009, the PHD program had positively influenced over 35,000 acres of upland wildlife habitat by planting over 735,000 trees and shrubs, seeded 800 acres to permanent grass cover, installed over 147 kilometers of fencing on 140 projects, installed 43 water deliveries to enhance or create 15 wetland basins.