Common Pheasant – News & Stories

“Ring-necked pheasants are a complicated bird,” Brooke explained. “They are not originally from the United States, but they have permeated the culture of rural America and spawned a great conservation movement.”

Hoosier pheasants are of Chinese origin. Among the earliest records of pheasants in America are those published by George Washington at Mount Vernon during his presidency. In 1881, Collared Pheasants were released to Oregon, marking the beginning of their permanent home. Indiana began stocking pheasants as a hunting opportunity around 1900.

“Pheasants are often referred to as farmland birds because they were closely associated with agriculture in the past,” Brooke explained. “The small farms of 50 years ago provided a big house with grain waste, weed fields, unused areas and fences. Indiana’s pheasant population peaked in the 1960s, but declined with habitat loss as farms evolved.

“Farm fields are larger, leaving less area for rows of fences and unused areas, leaving less room for pheasant habitat. In agricultural countries today, you are most likely to find wild pheasants in the edges of fields or in other areas that have been converted to native grasses and wildflowers through programs such as the conservation reserve (CRP).

In response to declining populations, pheasant supporters have created a conservation movement.

“Pheasants Forever has approximately 140,000 members, including myself,” Brooke said. “They volunteer their time and money to conserve pheasant habitat. It has benefits for other wildlife, including pollinators, other birds, and deer.

Many agricultural producers also voluntarily register their property in conservation programs like CRP in the hope of strengthening populations of pheasants and other wildlife.

When asked why he and others were attracted to pheasants, Brooke had no difficulty answering.

“Pheasants are attractive for a variety of reasons. Males have beautiful iridescent feathers. They also provide a stimulating yet social hunting opportunity where you can connect with family and friends and have the chance to watch good hunting dogs do the natural thing. And of course, pheasants are excellent dishes at the table.

Pheasants are gallinacea, closely related to turkeys and chickens. “Their meat is similar to that of domestic poultry, except their legs are a bit harder as they live their lives running,” Brooke noted.

When avoiding predators, pheasants prefer to run, but can travel short distances at speeds over 40 miles per hour.

Today, most of Indiana’s pheasants live in northwestern counties including Jasper, Benton, and Newton, where agricultural fields are found mixed with permanent cover like native grasslands and CRP fields. Pheasants can also be found near the campus in Tippecanoe County, although they are more common in the west in states like South Dakota, where the ring-necked pheasant is the state bird.

“In these areas, you will see their impact at this time of year,” Brooke said. Pheasants are cooked for family dinners, their feathers are displayed as ornaments on Christmas trees, and perhaps their ringed necks are mentioned in the song.