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Game Bird Introductions

Updated: Feb 16

Releasing new species into the wild is generally frowned upon today, but this wasn’t always the case, and the 1940s were the heyday of wildlife introductions. Early successes with Hungarian Patridge and Ring-necked Pheasant release on PEI had the Island being written up in prestigious magazines as a ‘sportsman’s paradise’, drawing hunters – and their tourist dollars – from across North America. It’s no surprise that local groups and the provincial government both wanted to build on this. You can read the details of Pheasant, Hun, and White-tailed Deer introductions in the natural history section of this blog, but the mid-20th century also marked experiments with Prairie Chicken, Chukkar, Bobwhite Quail, and Wild Turkey. 


Photo 1: Sharp-tailed Grouse (aka Prairie Chicken). Photo by Donna Martin, used with permission.

In 1942, the PEI Department of Agriculture began investigating the feasibility of introducing Prairie Chicken from the west and Willow Ptarmigan from Newfoundland. By April 1943, six pairs of Prairie Chicken (aka Sharp-tailed Grouse, Photo 1) had arrived from Alberta, with three pairs released around Cherry Valley and three in Bonshaw. Some pairs survived, and dozens of birds were reported around Earnscliffe and as far away as Little Sands the following year. 

 

In 1947, the Department teamed up with the Fish and Game Association and Island Pheasants Unlimited to bring in another 50 pairs, although in the end only 15 pairs were acquired from the supplier. Provincial legislation was amended to protect the birds and (hopefully) increase the population, with an impressive fine of $50 (more than $675 today) for shooting one. Despite those efforts, Prairie Chicken were scarce on the Island by the early 1950s and the introduction was considered a failure. (You can still find a few birds in the northeastern part of PEI but those are from much later releases in the 1980s). 


Photo 2: Chukkar Partridge. Photo by Artemy Voikhansky via Wikimedia commons.

Chukkar (Photo 2) is native to the Middle East and Southeast Asia and was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s. In 1947, a visiting New Jersey sportsman was so impressed with PEI’s upland game opportunities that he arranged to ship 51 adult Chukkars here at his own expense ($300, the equivalent of about $4,300 today) and they were released in Bideford. The following year he shipped 200 Chukkar eggs, from which about 100 birds were hatched and released.

 

The PEI Fish and Game Association got on board, and hundreds (possibly thousands) of Chukkar eggs were hatched and birds released in 1949. Despite these efforts, few birds could be found by the early 1950s. In 1954, 30 birds were imported from Sydney, Nova Scotia, and there was talk of establishing a game farm on the Island to raise these and other species. However, by 1957 Chukkars were all but gone from the Island and the introduction was deemed a failure.

 


Photo 3: The release of Bobwhite Quail on PEI in 1948.

In April 1948, a shipment of 400 Bobwhite Quail arrived from New Jersey, and a month later the birds were released in all three counties (Photo 3).  Despite enthusiasm from the Fish and Game Association and Island Pheasants Unlimited, legendary game warden and sportsman Spurgeon Jenkins considered this to be an expensive gamble. The groups paid $2,000 for the birds – roughly $25,000 today!  In the early 1950s, these original birds were augmented with releases of smaller numbers of pen-raised Quail and chicks hatched from incubated eggs.  However – as was often the case – Spur Jenkins was right, and the expensive gamble didn’t pay off.  By the late 1950s, efforts to introduce Quail to the Island ended. 


Photo 4: Wild Turkey. Photo by Donna Martin, used with permission.

You might think that all this time, effort, and money on failed introductions might have deterred the proponents, but you’d be wrong! In May 1956, 16 Wild Turkeys (Photo 4) were released in Bellevue.  Despite early losses to foxes and dogs, a flock of 30 birds was reported near Launching two years later.  With that encouragement, the Fish & Game Association released a further 12 birds in Strathgartney in 1962 and developed plans to bring in and release hundreds more along with development of a local breeding program. Additional birds were released in West Prince throughout the 1960s, and less official sporadic introductions continued in western and eastern PEI well into the 2000s.  Wild Turkeys (and/or domestic birds with wild-type colours) are spotted annually on the Island today.

 

The history of wildlife extirpations and introductions is an interesting part of PEI untamed!

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Great article. I had a Northern Bobwhite in my yard at Johnstons River two years ago. Made the most interesting call for days on end and was not afraid of humans. Have not seen or herd it since.

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Nice! They are certainly unmistakeable birds 😊

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