1. The effects of supplementary food in spring on subsequent pheasant breeding in an intensively farmed area in southern England were assessed by a large-scale, replicated field experiment.
2. Territorial cock pheasants were counted in April, and the breeding success and survival of radio-tagged hens were monitored in six 1-km2 plots during 1994 and 1995. Total numbers of young reared and post-breeding pheasant densities were found by August counts. In 1994, three randomly selected plots were supplied with wheat grains via hoppers along woodland edges and hedgerows. The other three plots acted as controls and the treatments were reversed in 1995.
3. The density of cock territories increased significantly in food-supplemented plots (44 ± 8 km−2) in relation to control plots (29 ± 8 km−2), and the presence of hoppers significantly affected the locations of territories. However, similar proportions of territorial males acquired harems in the control and food-supplemented plots. Hen density did not increase and, consequently, the mean harem size was significantly lower with supplementary feeding.
4. Hens given supplementary food did not nest earlier and the number of nests initiated, clutch sizes and the proportion of successful nests did not differ significantly from those of controls. However, hens supplied with supplementary food re-nested significantly more quickly following the loss of a nest or brood.
5. Radio-tagged hens did not rear significantly more young with supplementary feeding. Hen survival was unchanged and post-breeding pheasant densities were no higher.
6. On present evidence, spring feeding cannot be advocated as a management technique to improve the breeding success of pheasants surviving the winter.