Survival of wild pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) on a hunting estate in Lower Austria.
Wild common pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) have declined throughout Europe during the last 50 years (Campbell 1997, Tapper 1999, Draycott et al. 2002). In Great Britain the decline has been attributed to changes in farming practices that have reduced the availability of suitable habitat and food resources (Hill 1985, Potts 1991). The majority of birds hunted in Britain are now hand-reared birds (Tapper 1999). The reliance of hunters on reared game can lead to increased pressure on remaining wild game stocks as predators are attracted to high concentrations of reared game (Kenward 1981, Robertson 1988) and there is reduced need to manage predators in the breeding season (Tapper 1999). In contrast to Britain and North America where pheasants have been widely researched, there is little information on pheasants in modern agricultural systems in Austria.
Austria, in common with other countries in Europe, has seen increases in agricultural productivity over the last 40 years and declines in pheasant harvest from 18 birds/km2 in 1972 to 4 birds/km2 in 2000 (Draycott et al. 2002). One site in Austria that has maintained a stable wild pheasant population is Seefeld Estate in the Lower Austria region. Seefeld Estate is a modern agricultural enterprise that covers 2,400 ha of which 75% is now crop agricultural, dominated by winter wheat and sugar beets, 10% woodland, 10% set aside, and 5% wetland. A program of targeted predator control, habitat management and supplementary feeding is conducted to enhance pheasant populations (Draycott et al. 2002).
We assessed survival and habitat of hen pheasants relative to management on Seefeld Estate to provide a basis for understanding requirements for pheasant restoration on farmland in Lower Austria.