For several months, health officials have tracked cases of Eastern equine encephalitis here in Maine. Last week two new incidents undoubtedly captured the attention of the state’s bird hunters.
Two flocks of pheasants — one in South Berwick, another in Parsonsfield — tested positive for EEE. The birds were subsequently destroyed.
On Monday I stopped by the Bangor office of Brad Allen, the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife’s bird group leader, and asked the biologist the question that has been on my mind for more than a week.
If some pheasants in Maine contracted the disease, what does that mean for our other game birds?
According to Allen, it doesn’t mean much at all.
“Pheasants seem to be particularly susceptible to the encephalitis, but I’m sure it’s the close proximity [of the birds] and having several hundred in a cage and mosquitoes flying around that leads to the contagiousness of it,” Allen said.
“In the field [with other game birds] I can’t imagine that would be an issue,” he said, [These birds were] high-density, birds under stress, birds not randomly distributed across the landscape so that mosquitoes really key in on them.”
Allen said the state’s ruffed grouse and woodcock populations occur naturally, and naturally distribute themselves. That presents a scenario that’s vastly different from the one that resulted in the recent EEE outbreak.
Though there is a pheasant-hunting season in Maine, and a special pheasant permit is needed to hunt the birds in York and Cumberland counties, those birds wouldn’t live in Maine if it weren’t for human intervention.
Allen explained that both of the flocks in which birds contracted EEE were captive, and were being raised with the goal of stocking them for hunters to pursue.
Pheasants are not native to Maine, but are imported by the DIF&W and raised by individuals and rod and gun clubs, Allen explained.
Allen described those pheasants as a “put-and-take” population, meaning that they are stocked in the wild with the expectation that hunters will successfully harvest most of the birds each year, shortly after their stocking. The following year, a new group of day-old pheasants will be purchased, and the cycle will continue.
A few pheasants may not fall to hunters, and may survive a Maine winter and attempt to breed the next spring, but Allen termed that reproduction “insignificant” in creating an actual native population of the birds.
Years ago, Allen explained, the DIF&W ran a pheasant program and raised birds at the Gray Game Farm, now the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray. About 20 years ago, he said, the project was abandoned due to financial concerns.
Avid pheasant hunters in York and Cumberland counties stepped forward to continue the program and created legislation that led to a pheasant stamp program that still exists. The proceeds from that program — about $10,000 a year, according to Allen — are used to buy day-old pheasants that are imported to Maine, then dis-tributed to the individuals and clubs that will raise them until their release.
The two flocks that contracted EEE were part of that program, and several hundred birds were subsequently destroyed, Allen said.
All of which is bad news for pheasant hunters, but good news for the rest of the state’s upland bird hunters … and the birds themselves.
Looking for hunter’s breakfasts
Deer season is fast approaching, and it’s time to start making the appropriate plans.
Where are you going to hunt? Are your stands in good condition? Have you done any scouting?
All need to be dealt with.
And so does this: Where are you going to eat on opening morning?
Plenty of civic organizations host hunter’s breakfasts on opening day — or on subsequent weekend mornings, for that matter — and many hunters include attendance at one or more of those feeds a key part of their hunting tradition.
That’s where you come in.
If your organization is holding a hunter’s breakfast, or any other hunter’s meal, we want to let folks know about it.
Drop me a line with all the important details:, including the location, price and hours of operation, and I’ll take care of the rest.
There’s no better way to get word of your big event out to thousands of like-minded folks.
And there’s no cheaper way, either: It won’t cost you a penny.
I’m looking forward to hearing from as many organizations as I can, and passing that information along in future columns and weekend outdoor notebook entries.
The e-mail address follows, but if you like, you can send items to my attention at the Bangor Daily News, PO Box 1329, Bangor, 04402-1329.