Ring-necked Pheasant

Phasianus colchicus

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 2001
  • John H. Giudice and John T. Ratti

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Figure 1. Approximate distribution of the Ring-necked Pheasant in North America.

This species was also introduced to South America and the Hawaiian Islands, but of those 2 places, viable populations exist only in the Hawaiian Islands. For remainder of worldwide distribution, see text. Delineation based on Breeding Bird Survey (Sauer et al. 1999) and Breeding Bird Atlases. Distribution boundaries should be interpreted cautiously because annual releases obscure the status and delineation of resident breeding populations; breeding is discontinuous in many areas.

Adult male Ring-necked Pheasant, Wyoming, September

Ucross Ranch, Wyoming 9/30/05; photographer Ernesto Scott

The Ring-necked Pheasant, a native of Asia, is one of the most successful and well-known introduced birds in North America. This species is exceptionally popular as an upland game bird throughout much of its range, and it may be the most studied species of Galliformes in the world.

The male Ring-necked Pheasant has a spectacular multicolored plumage, long tail, and chickenlike appearance that is difficult to confuse with any other North American bird. Both sexes are swift runners and strong flyers for short distances. Populations do best in hay and grain agricultural regions, especially areas with grassy field borders, wetlands, and numerous small patches of idle land with tall grass, forbs, and lesser amounts of brush and trees. Populations are established on most midlatitude agricultural lands from southern Canada to Utah, California to the New England states, and south to Virginia. This species is commonly raised in captivity and has been widely introduced; many scattered and small populations occur outside the normal range.

As with most other bird species, food and predation are important influences on population levels. Landscape and habitat features also influence demographic rates; dense winter cover (e.g., cattails in wetlands), for example, is especially important for survival during years with severe cold, wind, and heavy snowfall. The most serious limitation in most regions, however, is associated with changes in the agricultural industry from small multicrop farms to large monocultures with clean farming practices. Numerous nests are also destroyed annually by hay-mowing.

This is an intensively studied game bird; more than 800 publications provide details on its behavior, food habits, distribution, population ecology and trends, habitat relationships, conservation, and management in North America. Most studies have been conducted in the Midwest, with some data from populations in Canada (Stokes 1956) and other parts of the U.S. (e.g., Stokes 1968, Whiteside and Guthery 1983b, Snyder 1984, Snyder 1985, Nohrenberg 1999). Intensive studies have also been undertaken in Britain (Hill and Robertson 1988). Population dynamics in relation to agricultural policies and programs have been examined in North America (e.g., Farris et al. 1977, Hallett et al. 1988). Recent research suggests that changes in landscape configuration and composition (e.g., patch size, interspersion, juxtaposition, amount of edge habitat, habitat quality) provide keys to understanding pheasant population dynamics in the Midwest and probably other agricultural landscapes (Warner et al. 1984, Warner et al. 1999, Clark and Bogenschutz 1999, Clark et al. 1999, Rodgers 1999). Critical to this species' future in many regions is the development of innovative ways to integrate wildlife conservation with large-scale farm programs and policies (Ratti and Scott 1991, Warner and Brady 1994, Clark et al. 1999, Rodgers 1999).

Recommended Citation

Giudice, J. H. and J. T. Ratti (2001). Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.572