Life Cycle of the Wild Pheasant

Pheasant in a field

The life cycle of the wild pheasant can be broken into four stages, which correlate to the seasons. Specific dates will be different as weather and location allow and usually range for about 30 days around the average start and end dates.

Often times the habitats of the birds shift with the food supplies desired at the various life stages and provide distinct roosting areas. Such predictability increases the prey status of these animals. Most all pheasants succumb to mortality due to predation rather than old age or disease. In fact, the average lifespan for a wild pheasant is only one year. In each stage of its life, the pheasant will lose half of the remaining brood size from predation.

1. Nesting - Spring (Mid/Late March to Mid/Late June)

pheasant family

Nesting begins as soon as the roosters begin to scatter from winter. Hens are attracted to the crowing of roosters as the males begin staking out territory. Once a nest is built, the hens will proceed to lay an average of 12 eggs - one each day. After she begins to incubate the eggs (May) the hen will only leave the nest one or two times a day to feed. Eggs will incubate for 23 days and all eggs will hatch within a day of one another (June).

2. Brooding - Summer (Mid June to Late September)

Hatchling brooding begins as soon as the hatchlings emerge from their shells (June). The mother hen will take the hatchlings to fields saturated with bugs to feed. Over 90 percent of a new hatchlings' diet is insects and after five weeks over 50 percent still remains insects. The new brood will stay close to home, initially only straying 10 to 20 acres from the nest. With age the range will increase to over 70 acres from the nest. Mothers remain with hatchlings for 8-10 weeks and birds are full grown by 21 weeks.

3. Foraging - Fall (September to November)

When weather begins to turn cold, pheasants begin to forage and binge eat. They fatten immensely preparing for winter's cold. Open fields where grass and insects are plentiful are the primary habitat. They eat large amounts of grain and seeds, but prefer corn as the staple of their diet. As the pheasants eat these grains, their body quickly converts the carbohydrates to fats for winter survival. This is the height of the population growth for pheasants.

4. Survival - Winter (November to Late February)

pheasant standing in the snow

Any pheasants not killed during fall hunting season will begin to overwinter shortly before the snow falls. These birds are the number one source of food for many carnivorous mammals and winter is the time when they succumb to the most population losses. As temperatures lower and food sources begin to get scarce, pheasants have declining health and begin to flock in smaller habitat ranges. This makes them prime targets for predation. The prime nesting areas which provide enough cover to overwinter become saturated with many female birds and help to create better conditions in the spring for nesting.