BIRDS
Status: Introduced Statewide

RING-NECKED PHEASANT
(Phasianus colchicus)
State Bird of South Dakota

Description 

Ring-necked pheasants are chicken-like in size and shape. The male ring-necked pheasant is a spectacular looking bird. He 
has a shiny green head with short "horns" of feathers, a naked red face, a white ring around his neck, and a shiny 
copper-colored breast. The female is less flashy. She is mottled brown and black and is smaller than the male. A male 
ring-necked pheasant is approximately 34 inches (96.4 cm) long with a 20 to 21 inch (51 - 53 cm) tail and weighs 2.25 to 
2.5 pounds (1 - 1.1 kg). The female is only 25 inches (63.5 cm) long with a 11 to 12 inch (27.9 - 30.1 cm) tail and weighs 
1.75 to 2.00 pounds (0.8 - 0.9 kg).

 
 
 
Distribution  

The ring-necked pheasant can be found throughout most of South Dakota, except for the Black Hills. This bird, however, was originally from China. The first successful introduction of the pheasant into the United States occurred in Oregon in 1892. Many attempts were made to introduce the bird into South Dakota, but the first successful introduction occurred in Spink County in 1908. A.E. Cooper and E.L. Ebbert, adjoining farmers south of Doland, released the pheasants into the wild. In 1911, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks released approximately 250 pairs in Spink and Beadle counties. Since that time, the South Dakota pheasant population has fluctuated from a high of 16 million birds to a low of 1.4 million birds. In 1993, the pheasant population was estimated to be around 5 million birds. Table 1 includes data on South Dakota pheasant populations and hunting records from 1941 through 1994. The highest population density of pheasants used to occur in east-central South Dakota, but currently the greatest numbers of birds are found in the south-central part of the state.

Natural History

Pheasants are polygamous. The males start claiming territories in March. They mark their territory by crowing at the
boundaries. The male tries to attract females to his territory. In April, the male mates with several females. Each female will
then look for a nesting site and begin to lay eggs. She nests on the ground, using leaves, grass, and breast feathers as lining
for the nest. She will lay from 10 to 12 eggs, one each day. When the last egg has been laid, she will start incubating them.

Many predators , such as cats, dogs, skunks, raccoons, weasels, mink, fox, hawks, owls and coyotes, threaten nesting hens
and their eggs. However, the hens are very good at hiding in the grass. If a nest is destroyed, the hen will renest. Her eggs
will hatch after 21 to 24 days of incubation. She will only raise one brood of young per year.

Pheasants have precocial young. The precocial chicks are downy and are able to walk as soon as they are dry. The young
develop quickly. Because they need a high protein diet to aid their rapid growth, young pheasants eat a lot of insects,
comprising up to 90 percent of their diet. They are able to make short flights at 2 weeks of age, and reach adult size by
October or November.

Prime pheasant habitat occurs in areas with a mixture of grain fields, grasslands, and woodlands or thickets. In these areas,
they can attain the four basic needs of wildlife; food, water, shelter, and space.

Adult pheasants feed on a variety of seeds, insects, and berries. The majority of their diet consists of grains, such as corn,
wheat, oats, barley, and buckwheat, that have fallen to the ground. Large numbers of pheasants can be found in areas where
greater than 50 percent of the land is under cultivation. Pheasants get the water they need from seeds, berries, dew, and
rainwater pools. The reason pheasants are so often seen along roadsides is that they, like many other seed-eating birds, eat
gravel. These small stones accumulate in the bird's gizzard and serve as an aid in breaking up hard foods, such as seeds.

Cover is especially important for pheasants. They need protection from the cold and snow during the long winters.
Woodlands or thickets serve as protection from the cold winds and snow. Wetland vegetation also can provide cover during
the winter. These hiding places are equally important to the birds as safe havens from predators . Grassland cover is needed
for the nesting hens during the spring.

Significance

In 1943, the ring-necked pheasant was named South Dakota's state bird. Population numbers reported each year show that
South Dakota usually has the largest population of pheasants in the United States. The pheasant has been economically
important to the state of South Dakota. Pheasant hunting brings in millions of dollars in revenue each year. The amount of
money brought in fluctuates with pheasant population numbers.

TABLE 1
 

Management Considerations

The best way to increase pheasant numbers is to provide better habitat. While pheasants are hardy birds, they experience a
high turnover each year. Approximately 65% to 75% of the pheasant population die each winter. The most vulnerable birds
are the young of the year.

More pheasants will survive the winter if plenty of food and cover is available. Intensive farming practices are hard on
pheasants. Not only is less waste grain available for food, but pesticides and chemical fertilizers can have ill effects.
Pesticides destroy weedy and woody cover needed for protection and destroy insects needed by the young for rapid
development. Chemical fertilizers can cause nitrate poisoning in pheasants.

Wildlife managers, besides providing habitat, manage pheasant populations by keeping records of pheasant densities,
productivity, and mortality. They establish population numbers using pheasant and hunter surveys. One survey they do is
"cock crowing counts." These counts are done during the spring when the cocks are busy marking their territory.

Glossary

Polygamous - situation in which a male mates with more than one female.
Precocial - young that are covered with feathers and are capable of moving around immediately after hatching.
Predator - an animal that kills and consumes other animals for food.

References
 

Bent, Arthur Cleveland. 1963. Life Histories of North American Gallinaceous Birds. Dover Publications, New York.
Trautman, Carl G. 1982. History, Ecology, and Management of the Ring- Necked Pheasant in South Dakota. South Dakota
Game, Fish and Parks, Pierre.
Riley, Steve. Upland Game Biologist, S.D.G,F&P. Personal Communication.
Solomon, Ken. 1984. Part 5: Pheasant Bioenergetics. South Dakota Conservation Digest 51(3): 25-29.
South Dakota Ornithologists Union. 1991. The Birds of South Dakota. 2nd Ed. NSU Press, Aberdeen, SD.

Selected Resources for Teachers
 

The Pheasant, a book by Virginia C. Holmgren, 1983. Crestwood House, Mankato, MN.

Written by:
Mary Anderson, Outdoor Recreation Planner Trainee, Sand Lake NWR, Columbia, SD 57433. 1995.
 

Reviewed by:
Ken Solomon, Pheasants Forever, Huron, SD 57350.

Publication of the Ring-necked Pheasant fact sheet was funded by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks,
Division of Wildlife, Pierre, SD.