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. Back to top
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. Back to top
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.
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.
|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.|
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.Back to top
Ring-necked Pheasants are common within their range, although numbers have declined since a peak in the mid-twentieth century. The North American Breeding Bird Survey noted that despite increases in some areas, overall, there was a population decline of approximately 0.6% annually for a cumulative decline of about 27% between 1966 and 2019. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at about 56 million and rates them 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Ring-necked Pheasants are popular game birds, 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 of the 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.Back to top
Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.
Giudice, John H. and John T. Ratti. (2001). Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.
Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.
Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.
Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.