Pheasant History & Facts

Pheasant History, Ecology & Biology

Pheasant chicks in the spring

Pheasant chicks in the spring

The pheasant, like many Americans, is an immigrant to North America. The first successful introduction of pheasants to this country occurred in 1881 when Judge Owen Nickerson Denny (US consul to China) shipped 30 Chinese ringnecks (26 survived the journey) to his home in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Eleven years later Oregon opened a 75-day season and hunters bagged 50,000 pheasants. They were subsequently released in 40 of the 50 states. The pheasant thrives in a farmland landscape with ample (20%+) undisturbed grassland habitat. Pheasant populations increased and reached all time highs in the mid-1900s before suffering severe population declines.

A Brief History

In a land rich in symbolism and imagery, the Chinese pheasant represented light, virtue, prosperity and good fortune. Good fortune indeed came upon one hunter in Burma who noticed a precious stone in the gizzard of his recent kill. The discovery inspired him to search for the origin of this stone, and after visiting the rooster's old stomping ground, sure enough, he found an emerald mine!

The pheasant was also associated with a 2000 B.C. emperor named Yu who was famed for developing a complex system of flood control. Similarly, references made to our endeared bird always place it next to important rivers (like its namesake, the Phasis). Perhaps a coincidence that the pheasant was associated with water, more likely it merely provided good habitat.

Thousands of years later in Europe, the pheasant was prized for its exotic beauty and tasty meat. The right-to-hunt pheasants was reserved for the upper class. Numerous attempts to bring pheasants to the "land of the free" failed. Ben Franklin's son-in-law, Richard Bach, released some pheasants in New Jersey. George Washington had some sent to his Mount Vernon estate during his first year of presidency, and the Governors of New Hampshire and New York also attempted to introduce the "old English blackneck" pheasant. Most of these pheasants were raised on game farms and were not hardy enough to survive. Therefore, these introductions proved unsuccessful.

Appearance

Male ring-necks feature a white ring around their neck and body plumage of gold, brown, green, purple, and white. The roosters head has blues, greens, and a distinctive red wattle. Females are much less showy with drab brown feathers.

Ecology

Pheasants are birds that can be found alone or in small flocks. Typically, a mother hen and her flock will stay together until early autumn. While pheasants are able to fly fast for short distances, they prefer to run. If startled however, they will burst to the sky in a "flush." Their flight speed is 27 to 38 mph when cruising but when chased they can fly up to 60 mph.

Pheasants spend almost their entire life on the ground, rarely ever being seen in trees. They eat a wide variety of foods; including, insects, seeds and leaves.

Roosters typically have a harem of several females during spring mating season. Hen pheasants nest on the ground, producing a clutch of around ten eggs over a two to three week period in April to June. The incubation period is about 23–26 days.

Pheasant Phacts

Weight: Male ring-necked pheasants average 2 to 3 pounds while their female (hen) counterparts average 2 pounds.
Length: Males measure 24 to 35 inches long with a rooster's tail often accounting for more than 20 inches of that length. Hens are smaller with a much shorter tail.
Flight Speed: 38-48 mph (but can reach up to 60 mph when chased)
Favorite Foods: corn, seeds, insects
Preferred Habitat: undisturbed grass
Average Nest Initiation: Early May
Average Incubation Start: Late May
Length of Incubation: 23 days
Average First Hatch: Mid June
Average Clutch Size: 12 eggs
Average Nest Success: 40-60%
Average Hen Success: 50-70%
Average Rate of Chick Survival: 50%
Major Nest Predators: fox, raccoon, skunk
Major Adult Predators: man, fox, hawk, owl
Survival Rate - mild winter, good habitat: 95%
Survival Rate - severe winter, good habitat: 50%
Survival Rate - mild winter, poor habitat: 80%
Survival Rate - severe winter, poor habitat: 20%

More Information About the Ringneck Pheasant:

Pheasant Phacts

  • Imported to the United States: 1881
  • Location of initial release: Willamette Valley, OR
  • Average hen weight: 2-2.5 pounds (20 in.)
  • Average rooster weight: 3.5-4 pounds (36 in.)
  • Flight speed: 38-48 mph
  • Favorite foods: Corn, seeds, insects
  • Preferred habitat: Undisturbed grass
  • Average nest initiation: Early May
  • Average incubation start: Late May
  • Length of incubation: 23 days
  • Average first hatch: Mid June
  • Average clutch size: 12 eggs
  • Average nest success: 40-60%
  • Average hen success: 50-70%
  • Average rate of chick survival: 50%
  • Major nest predators: Fox, raccoon, skunk
  • Major adult predators: Man, fox, hawk, owl
  • Survival-mild winter, good habitat: 95%
  • Survival-severe winter, good habitat: 50%
  • Survival-mild winter, poor habitat: 80%
  • Survival-severe winter, poor habitat: 20%