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Ring-necked Pheasant

Phasianus colchicus ORDER: GALLIFORMES FAMILY: PHASIANIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Ring-necked Pheasants stride across open fields and weedy roadsides in the U.S. and southern Canada. Males sport iridescent copper-and-gold plumage, a red face, and a crisp white collar; their rooster-like crowing can be heard from up to a mile away. The brown females blend in with their field habitat. Introduced to the U.S. from Asia in the 1880s, pheasants quickly became one of North America’s most popular upland game birds. Watch for them along roads or bursting into flight from brushy cover.

Yard Map Birds Eye View
BNA ML combo package

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
19.7–27.6 in
50–70 cm
Wingspan
22–33.9 in
56–86 cm
Weight
17.6–105.8 oz
500–3000 g
Relative Size
Larger and longer-tailed than an American Crow; smaller than a Wild Turkey.
Other Names
  • Common Pheasant
  • Faisan de Colchide (French)
  • Faisán vulgar, Faisán de collar (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Pheasants, along with most members of the grouse family, have specialized, powerful breast muscles—the “white meat” that you find on a chicken. These muscles deliver bursts of power that allow the birds to escape trouble in a hurry, flushing nearly vertically into the air and reaching speeds of nearly 40 miles per hour.
  • While the birds normally don’t cover more than about 600 feet at a time, strong winds can extend their flights considerably. Observers in 1941 reported seeing a pheasant fly a record four miles while crossing a body of water.
  • Male Ring-necked Pheasants may harass other ground-nesting birds, such as the Gray Partridge and the Greater Prairie-Chicken. Female pheasants sometimes lay their own eggs in these birds’ nests. This may explain why some male pheasants have been seen chasing away male prairie-chickens and courting females—the pheasants may have been raised in prairie-chicken nests and imprinted on the wrong species.
  • Ring-necked Pheasants sometimes cope with extreme cold by simply remaining dormant for days at a time.
  • Pheasants practice "harem-defense polygyny" where one male keeps other males away from a small group of females during the breeding season.

Habitat


Grassland

Look for Ring-necked pheasants on agricultural land and old fields—especially fields that are interspersed with grass ditches, hedges, marshes, woodland borders, and brushy groves. These birds also occur in an impressive range of habitats: in Hawaii, for example, they can be found from sea level to a 11,000 feet elevation. They can live in forests, grasslands, and deserts. Despite this versatility, Ring-necked Pheasants do gravitate to particular kinds of habitat for specific activities. Typically, they roost in trees or dense shrubs in spring and summer and in forested wetlands, farm fields and weedy areas in fall. For early season nesting, they seek cover along grassy roadsides, fence lines, ditches, and wetlands. As the season progresses and vegetation grows taller and denser, they shift their nesting activity to fields of hay, particularly alfalfa.

Food


Omnivore

In fall and winter, Ring-necked Pheasants eat seeds—especially grain from farm fields—as well as grasses, leaves, roots, wild fruits and nuts, and insects. Their spring and summer diet is similar, but with a greater emphasis on animal prey and fresh greenery. They eat insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, crickets, and ants, as well as snails and earthworms. Ring-necked Pheasants forage in grasslands, hayfields, woodland edges, and brushy areas. They sometimes pick waste grain from cow manure in pastures. Pheasants take most of their food from the ground, scratching or digging with their bills. They can retrieve roots or seeds from as deep as three inches below the soil surface. They also sometimes forage in shrubs or trees for fruit, leaves, and buds.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
7–15 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
1.6–1.9 in
4.1–4.9 cm
Egg Width
1.3–1.5 in
3.3–3.8 cm
Incubation Period
23–28 days
Egg Description
Olive-brown to blue-gray.
Condition at Hatching
Pheasant chicks hatch completely covered with down, eyes open. They leave the nest immediately, following the female and feeding for themselves.
Nest Description

The Ring-necked Pheasant’s nest is a rudimentary affair—unlined or sparsely lined with vegetation taken from beside the nest depression. Females gather grasses, leaves, weed stalks, fine twigs, corn husks, and/or a few feathers from their own breast with which to line the nest. The average nest bowl is about 7 inches across and 2.8 inches deep.

Nest Placement

Ground

The female Ring-necked Pheasant chooses her nest site, which is usually less than half a mile from her wintering range. Nests are usually surrounded by tall vegetation and built on the ground, often in a natural depression or a hollow that the female scoops out herself, about a third of an inch to 3 inches deep.

Behavior


Ground Forager

Male Ring-necked Pheasants establish breeding territories in early spring. A male maintains sovereignty over his acreage by crowing and calling; he approaches intruders with head and tail erect, and may tear up grass that he then tosses. Competitors sometimes resort to physical combat. After a series of escalating threat displays, fighting cocks flutter upward, breast to breast, and bite at each other’s wattles. They may take turns leaping at each other with bill, claws, and spurs deployed. Usually the challenger runs away before long, and these fights are rarely fatal. Females assemble in breeding groups focused on a single male and his territory. The cock courts the hen with a variety of displays—strutting or running; spreading his tail and the wing closest to her while erecting the red wattles around his eyes and the feather-tufts behind his ears. He also “tidbits”—poses with head low while calling her to a morsel of food. A female may flee at first, leading the male on a chase punctuated by courtship displays. Males guard their groups of females from the advances of other males. Like many birds, Ring-necked Pheasants take frequent dust baths, raking their bills and scratching at the ground, shaking their wings to sweep dust and sand into their feathers, lying on their sides and rubbing their heads. Dust-bathing probably removes oil, dirt, parasites, dead skin cells, old feathers, and the sheaths of new feathers.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Ring-necked Pheasants are common within their range, although their numbers seem to have declined slightly since a peak in the mid-twentieth century. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates that populations in eastern and western North America have declined, but numbers in the center of the continent have risen. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at about 50 million, with about 30 percent of them in North America (29 percent in the U.S., 1 percent in Canada). They score an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and they are not on the 2012 Watch List. Ring-necked Pheasants are a popular game bird, and in some places game managers stock pheasants on land. Hunters kill large numbers of male pheasants—sometimes several million in a single season—but the overall effect of hunting is probably not great, owing in part to the tendency for many female pheasants to mate with a single male. Auto accidents kill huge numbers of pheasants, and farm machinery also poses a threat. Contemporary farming practices have degraded most prime pheasant habitats in the U.S.—by replacing small, diversified farms with large monocultures; eliminating edge habitat; draining wetlands; burning, spraying weeds, and mowing roadsides; applying chemical fertilizers and herbicides; overgrazing; and moving up hay-mowing dates, which can destroy late nests. Management strategies include providing nesting cover, reducing nest losses, and providing adequate winter cover. The Conservation Reserve Program, funded by the Farm Bill, has helped conserve and restore habitat for Ring-necked Pheasants.

Credits

Range Map Help

Ring-necked Pheasant Range Map
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Migration

Nonmigratory.

Backyard Tips

This species often comes to bird feeders. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

Find This Bird

Because they live in tall vegetation and old fields, Ring-necked Pheasants can be hard to see even in places where they’re numerous. Keep an eye out for them running between patches of cover as you travel through agricultural areas—particularly along dirt roads where the birds often forage in weedy areas. Winter is a good time to look for Ring-necked Pheasants, when vegetation is at a minimum, crops have been harvested, and some areas have a snowy backdrop for the birds to stand out against. In spring and summer, listen and watch for males performing their calling and wing-flapping display in open areas.