Kuaokala Game Management Area, O‘ahu – Delectable, small game birds are undoubtedly at the center of some Thanksgiving meals on O‘ahu and Kaua‘i, today. Hunters got the birds using a put-and-take system set up by the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW).
Since 2017, DOFAW has flown hundreds of birds, some 4,100 miles from Wisconsin, to brooding and rearing facilities in Hawai‘i. After about six weeks, a mix of melanistic mutant pheasants, ring-neck pheasants, and chukar partridges, are moved to fly pens, where they spend another ten weeks to reach maturity. Just in time for each hunting season the birds are trucked to state Game Management Areas (GMAs) and released.
Wildlife biologist Nick Vargas heads up the release program on O‘ahu. “It takes a lot of time, a lot of energy, and a lot of volunteer and staff effort to continuously feed them, water them, and make sure that they’re healthy and strong for the beginning of the hunting season,” Vargas explained.
They leave the mainland as day-old chicks and go through quarantine and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture inspection once they arrive here. Revenues from hunting licenses and bird stamps fund the game bird rearing program.
Vargas added, “Hunting success rates for wild birds in wild habitats is pretty low. So, this is like stocking a lake with fish. Instead, we’re stocking hunting areas with small game birds.”
Yesterday, Vargas and a team of DOFAW staff and KUPU interns first netted twenty pheasants and put metal leg bands on them. They then trucked the melanistic mutant pheasants to two different locations in the Kuaokala GMA on Oahu‘s north shore for release. These pheasants are described as beautiful with iridescent, greenish-black plumage, and like all the game bird species released in Hawai‘i, Vargas says they’re good eating.
This was the fourth bird release this month. Nine more are scheduled between now and the end of January, the end of the small game hunting season.
“Hunters are a huge value to state managed hunting systems. They utilize the resources sustainably and they often are the first to report habitant changes and problems on the landscape, which help us to upgrade or change management practices,” Vargas added. He said basically they are the first line of defense because they’re out observing and experiencing natural conditions and are among the volunteers who devote time to raising the birds.
Kaua‘i also has a put-and-take small game bird program and imports even more birds than O‘ahu on an annual basis, totaling 700 for the current hunting season. They’re being released in the Kekaha Game Management Area, Unit A.
Vargas said, “We’ve been getting a lot of good reviews from hunters that these birds are pretty full, pretty healthy birds. Hopefully some folks can use them for their Thanksgiving meal and can share them with their family and friends. A bonus of our program is it might spark the interest of others to hunt and partake in the game species we have.”