America's Lucrative Pheasant

Native to Asia, ring-necked pheasants were introduced to North America in 1881; initially bred in captivity and released on private hunting reserves, this hardy game bird has become established in grassland habitats across the northern half of the U.S. and southern Canada.

Most abundant on the Great Plains and selected as the State Bird of South Dakota, ring-necked pheasants are polygamous and prolific.  Dominant males establish harems during the breeding season and females lay multiple clutches until chicks are successfully hatched.  Known to have a negative impact on greater prairie chicken populations (a native species), male pheasants chase male chickens from their territory and female pheasants may parasitize the nests.  Though hundreds of thousands of male ring-necked pheasants are harvested by hunters each year, such artificial population control is, to some degree, countered by the polygamous breeding habits of these popular game birds; of course, many others are killed by severe weather, vehicles or farm machinery.

More than a century after Americans introduced ringed-necks to our continent, we have, in effect, created a massive hunting preserve from the Pacific to the Atlantic.  In some Great Plains States, pheasant hunting is vital to the economy, bringing in funds from hunting licenses and the patronage of regional stores, hotels and restaurants.  While the pheasants have imbedded themselves in natural ecosystems across the country, providing sustenance for hawks, owls, coyotes, fox and a host of egg consumers, they are unwitting participants in man's manipulation of nature for his own benefit, a practice that has nothing to do with conservation.