Where the Heck is my Tail?
As a biologist with Pheasants Forever, I am asked many questions about pheasant biology and their life cycle. One question that comes up often is whether or not a pheasant molts. By molting, I mean losing current feathers and replacing them with new ones, such as ducks do every year. The answer to this question is “yes,” both hens and roosters molt every year. A rooster will molt right after the breeding season in the spring, and the hen will molt in June as she is brooding her chicks.
But I was asked a new question this spring which to be honest, I did not know the answer to. Does a rooster lose its tail feathers every year? Well after doing some research with the experts at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, I found out the answer was also “yes.” In fact, they receive calls every year from concerned landowners that their pheasants must have a disease because the roosters don’t have the distinguishable long tail feathers. Don’t be alarmed if you see this, these roosters will begin growing their tail feathers again in July and continue growing into the hunting season.
As for the chicks of spring, we can’t forget about them. After their June hatch, pheasant chicks begin growing flight feathers, and are capable of short flights at two weeks old of about 150 yards. In early July (3 to 4 weeks old), they have replaced their yellow down with feathers looking like that of the dull brown hen. All of the young roosters and hens are the same color at this time and are hard to distinguish between. At six weeks old these chicks begin a post-juvenile molt which will eventually give them their adult plumage. The molt will be completed when chicks are 17 to 18 weeks old, right in time for hunting season.
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