HONOLULU (KHON2) – The first of several moving days for the Oahu Game Bird Rearing Program took place Tuesday. This is when they transition hundreds of chukars and pheasants from the brooder stage to outdoor flight pens. 

Because these two types of game birds aren’t likely to survive in the Kuaokala Game Management Area (GMA) the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Forestry and Wildlife imports hundreds of birds to provide for the public. 

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“A public benefit that achieves a balance between conservation and having a recreational resource on the landscape,” said Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) Game Program Coordinator Jason Omick.

He said the chukars and pheasants arrive at a brooder house right after they hatch then spend their first days under heat lamps until they are five-to-six weeks old. 

“Our mandate requires us to provide resources for sustainable outdoor recreation, and hunting is in that realm,” said Omick. “Game bird hunting opens-up opportunities for people to get meat and enjoy being outside. Many Oahu residents tell us they want game birds available to them, and this past season the State legislature recognized this benefit in law.”

Nick Vargas, a DOFAW wildlife biologist, manages the game program on Oahu. He also communicates with hunters when they bring their game to a hunter check-in station to be recorded.

“Over the past five years, we’ve seen a big uptick in the number of hunters seeking game birds,” said Vargas. “People are hearing about our “put and take” program and they travel from off-island and from the mainland after learning Oahu has good game bird hunting opportunities.”

Before heading to the flight pens, DOFAW staff and volunteer hunters load the birds up, one by one, into crates or boxes for the drive over the Pali. Hunters themselves have a vested interest in helping make sure the pens are secure and the birds have a habitat that mirrors Kuaokalā’s.

According to DLNR the pheasants are outfitted with “peepers,” tiny shields, that fit over their beaks and block all but their peripheral vision. This defends against the species’ tendency to attack one another, in holding pens.

DLNR report annual hunting seasons reduce the impact of the birds on the landscape to almost nothing. The put and take system is not only environmentally sound, but also financially sustainable. Hunting license and game bird stamp revenues help fund the program.

The State receives around $4.5 million annually in federal grant funds for game and non-game wildlife restoration projects. The federal funds allocated to the game program with the hunting license revenue collected, supports and bolsters game bird hunting across the state.​

“Often, the food sustainability component of hunting gets lost, but these birds end up on the tables of local families. They’re good eating and I’ve had smoked and roasted bird and bird jerky,” said Vargas. “The put and take system is critical on Oahu, as unlike many other places, these birds can’t survive for years and years in the existing game bird hunting area, due to incompatible habitat conditions, including lack of adequate water and food resources in the GMA.”

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He said now they have a guarantee that birds will be available to be hunted each year.