Pheasants face darkness in Manorville


On a grassy embankment between its south service road and Sunrise Highway, just before it intersects Route 111 in Manorville, seven ring-necked pheasants sought shelter and sustenance beneath a bare-limbed bush, unlikely to offer much of either. 

Outside, 30-mile-per-hour wind gusts dropped the chill factor below freezing.  The first snow flurries of the season whipped across the landscape, where five more lay crushed in the road, their hunt for food or safety concluded.  At 3 p.m., speeding vehicles were the sole sign of human presence; an aged chain-link fence girded the outer periphery of public land posted for hunting.  This year’s crop of farm-raised quarry had arrived, courtesy of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

As night approached and the temperature dropped to 27 degrees, unprepared for life in the wild, they huddled together and awaited their fate.

Twenty-four hours later, at least five more lay dead.  Near dusk, a rescue effort led by Humane Long Island’s John Di Leonardo combed the 2-mile stretch searching for survivors.  Hours later, as the moon rose and hope faded, a lone hen ran for cover, just in time to fall under a flashlight’s beam and a waiting net. Her tiny body tucked under his arm, Di Leonardo carried her to a secure carrier and placed the hen gently inside.

“She’s not even squirming,” he noted.  “It’s obvious she’s used to being around humans.  A wild bird would be flapping right now.”

Over the course of the next three days, five more birds joined her at the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center, in Hampton Bays, to receive care and placement. Their ordeal was over.  But for thousands of pheasants like them, this is not the case.

Raised on the Reynolds Farm in Ithaca, N.Y., as part of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s stocking program, roughly 1,950 pheasants will be released this year into the Otis Pike Preserve in Manorville; an equal number will be set free in Rocky Point.  In total, 26,000 birds will be released across the state during the hunting season between November and the end of December.

Promoted as a wonderful introduction for novice, youth, and disabled hunters, pheasant stocking allows inexperienced participants an easy mark to assure success. What is not mentioned is that they are farm-raised birds, used to contact with humans who feed and tend them, rendering prey with no fear of predators.  Released into an unfamiliar environment, they are ill-equipped for survival.  Those that aren’t shot will die of starvation, disease, predation or vehicle impact.  This is not an effort for conservation.  There is no expectation of their survival. Predators kill 90 percent in the first week after release.

Cited as “target practice with live animals” by Casey Pheiffer and Patrick Kwan in a letter from the Humane Society of the United States to NYS DEC commissioner Pete Grannis, efforts to eliminate the program have been unsuccessful so far.  The market for all kinds of hunting, and a long-established gun culture, assure demand for access to well-stocked public hunting lands, many near residential areas.  This can lead to some cruel discoveries.

During hunting season on the East End of Long Island, it is not uncommon to see injured wildlife, many of which will die if not treated: a turkey, goose, or deer with an arrow lodged in its body; swans or other waterfowl poisoned with lead from ingested birdshot.

Di Leonardo, president and executive director of Humane Long Island, and New York State assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (NYS District 67) have called for an end to the stocking program.  Rosenthal has introduced Bill A000508, which would prohibit the state’s participation in artificial pheasant propagating activities, and A000768, which would include wildlife animals as those covered in animal cruelty provisions.

Hunting is a time-honored tradition.  For many, it is a sport.  For thousands of New York State pheasants, it is a game without a chance.


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