Bird’s-eye View: Few things as pleasant as a ring-necked pheasant | Merrimack Valley


Tweetings, fellow birders! Thanks for flying in to read this column!

This week we’re going to discuss one of my favorite memories from childhood, and I’m not talking about wiffle ball (although that would be fun). No, when I was younger there was a specific street in my hometown which featured a long, winding stretch of rich, beautiful farmland. I would bike down there in the wee hours of the morning as the sun rose and just sit quietly, hoping for a glance at something special.

What was I searching for, you might ask? Well, that’s a very good question, indeed. It was a bird of exceptional splendor and coloring. I’ll describe it for you now as best as I can.

I always heard it before I ever saw it. The unmistakable “caw-caw!” squawk similar to that of a crow, sometimes followed by a fluttering of furious wings. Very distinct, and very memorable once you’ve experienced it. But if I was extremely lucky, on certain days, one would cross the open road in full view: the shy game bird known as the ring-necked pheasant. When that happened, it made the wait worthwhile.

The male of the species is highly decorated, the top of the head often dull emerald with a blue-green neck, white collar (or ring), and yellow eyes, encircled by a red patch. The beak is sharp and slightly curved with the breast dark brown, the tan back lighter, scattered with black and white dots and streaks. Strong thick feet and sturdy legs allow for agile running, and the tail is long and barred with black bands featured in alternating fashion. The entire body length itself reaches 36 inches or more, presenting a fairly large customer, averaging around 2 to 3 pounds in weight.

The female dons muted brown feathers with a long neck and black markings on the back and tail, cloaking her almost invisible amongst similar colored brush. She will not move unless absolutely necessary, making it hard for predators to spot her. (Freeze! Okay, now … stay frozen!).

Continuing that theme, female pheasants lay anywhere from six to 15 eggs, the nest being built on the ground with ample cover, lined with grass and leaves. After hatching, the young will stay with the mother for two to three months, often feeding themselves, and capable of short flights after a few weeks.

The diet of this bird is rather varied, typically consisting of grain, seeds, roots and buds, but also includes insects, earthworms, snails, and on rare occasions even frogs or small rodents.

Pheasants can usually be found in fields and near farms, access to water always being important. Marshes and hedgerows are other common locations of habitat, as well as open grasslands if accompanied by brushy meadows.

I always found dawn to be the best time to seek them out, so get up early if you’re hoping for a show. Remember, patience is key. Give it time and I’m sure you’ll see them struttin’ their stuff.

The bird itself is not native to New England or North America, having first been imported from eastern China and introduced to Oregon in the late 19th century. Afterward it was brought to areas all across the Midwest with the purpose of establishing breeding colonies where game was minimal or scarce. In fact, the ring-necked pheasant is the official state bird of South Dakota.

By the 1930s, the species was well represented here on the East Coast, even reaching into southern Canada, and became very popular among hunters. It is a hardy creature, able to readily adapt to most environments, and is truly an American success story.

At present, they are also raised on commercial farms for meat, with their feathers often being used in various decorations. There is even an organization, Pheasants Forever, which advocates conservation and habitat protection via multiple methods.

But now, I would like to close this piece with a short and important message: While I am not responsible against hunting and farming, I do hope you will please view this animal as more than just a game bird. They have so very much to offer us, even by simply gracing our fields with their gentle presence. As I said, when I was a child, it was a genuine honor just to see a pheasant by the waking light of the early morn. Not everyone has the opportunity to experience wildlife. Please don’t take that precious privilege for granted.

Oh no! Look out! Here comes the bad joke!

Q: What type of bird is always in a good mood?

A: A “pleasant pheasant!”

Boy, someone will want to “wring” my neck for that one! Get it? Wring? Neck?

I can’t believe you don’t get it…

Happy birding!

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