TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS :
Breeding season - Ring-necked pheasants are usually polygamous but
males are monogamous. In the spring it is common to see one male
with several females. In Montana cocks are capable
of breeding by
late February and hens can lay eggs by late March. Winter weather,
which often prevails through March
in much of Montana, may delay mating
attempts until April. Cocks defend breeding territories or "crowing
and crow to attract hens. The boundaries of a "crowing
territory" may shift as the season progresses. Cocks
mate with any
receptive hen that enters their territory. In Montana crowing begins
in late March, reaches a peak
in May, and then gradually subsides.
Sporadic crowing may be heard through July. Cocks and hens are sexually
until about August 1.
Age at first reproduction - Ring-necked pheasants are capable of
breeding the spring of
the year after they hatch.
Nesting and incubation - Before nesting, hens frequently lay eggs at
random or deposit
them in "dump" nests (a nest where eggs are layed but
are not incubated and do not hatch). Several hens may
lay eggs in a
single dump nest and then abandon them. As many as 50 eggs have been
found in a single dump nest.
The incidence of random egg laying and
laying in dump nests appears to increase as the local ring-necked
After constructing a nest, the hen lays 6 to 15 eggs, usually 10 to 12.
The hen lays one
egg per day until the clutch is complete.
Incubation begins after the entire clutch is laid. Ring-necked pheasant
often renest after a clutch is destroyed. The hen will continue
nesting attempts until she successfully hatches a clutch,
loses a clutch
late in incubation, or can no longer produce eggs that season. The
average number of eggs laid per
clutch decreases by one or more with
each successive attempted renest. An average first clutch of 10 eggs
reduced by half in the third or fourth renest attempt. The
eggs are incubated by the hen for 23 to 25 days. Each hen
only one brood during the breeding season, but because of renesting
attempts, broods of many different ages
can be seen throughout the
Ring-necked pheasants sometimes lay eggs in nests of other birds such as
partridge (Perdix perdix), ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus), and
blue-winged teal (Anas discors). Few of these eggs hatch,
chicks that do hatch probably do not survive long.
Egg-laying dates - Egg dates recorded by Bent are
Washington and Oregon - April 13-June 17
California - May 3-June 10
Michigan - April 17
Massachusetts - May 16
Pennsylvania - May 12 and June 4
In British Columbia, egg dates from 189 clutches ranged from April 21 to
July 27, with 51 percent recorded between
May 10 and June 8. The
earliest recorded ring-neck pheasant nest in Montana was found on April
15. Nesting activity
peaks during the first half of May, although this
varies somewhat with location. In Montana, the latest nesting activity
was recorded on September 13.
Fledging - The hen leads her chicks away from the nest as soon as their
have dried. Within a few days they start developing
wing feathers, and are capable of making short flights by the time
are 2 weeks old. The downy coat is completely replaced by juvenile
feathers within 6 weeks. The chicks are
cared for by the hen until
they are 6 to 8 weeks old.
Life span - Mortality of young ring-necked pheasants is
mortality between hatching and 2 weeks of age may be as high as 25
percent and may increase to almost 50
percent by 9 weeks of age. The
main causes of chick loss are chilling rain or hail storms, predation,
and farming operations. Only about 3 out of 10 chicks
survive to adulthood the spring after hatching. A 2-year-old is
comparatively old ring-necked pheasant. Birds 3 or more years old
usually make up 5 percent or less of the population.
population turnover (length of time for all birds hatched during any 1
year to die) generally occurs within
PREFERRED HABITAT :
Quality habitat for ring-necked pheasants provides adequate food, with
in close proximity. Ring-necked pheasant habitat is often
associated with areas of high soil fertility where agricultural
and other vegetation provide the basic food and cover requirements.
Cultivated farmland interspersed with patches
of brush or woodlots often
provides some of the best habitat for ring-necked pheasants.
Ring-necked pheasants also
inhabit fallow fields, brushy pastures,
roadside hedgerows, cutover lands, brackish and freshwater marshes,
open woodlands, dense forests, meadows, beaches, and city
parks and yards.
Ring-necked pheasants breed in most
habitats where cover is available
except dense woodlands, but prefer agricultural areas in shrubby areas
with fields, grass and grain crops. Nests are often
located at the base of clumps of grass, shrubs, or fenceposts, among
tall grasses, reeds, cattails, and sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), next to
logs, buildings and construction equipment,
or under small trees and
brush piles. Nests are frequently located close to sources of water.
They form small depressions
in the ground and are composed of grasses,
feathers, weed stalks, twigs, and rootlets. Fencerows, roadside
and field edges that are vegetated provide travel corridors for
Ring-necked pheasants require specific cover for different phases of
their life cycle. Therefore, cover types
must be interspersed to insure
that all types are available throughout the year.
Nesting cover - Nesting cover
must be dense enough to prevent detection
of the nest and incubating hens by predators. An abundance of nesting
in early spring is especially important for successful nesting
since early clutches and broods are larger than later ones.
located in undisturbed residual cover (plant vegetation remaining from
the previous year) have the best chance
of hatching successfully.
Grass-forb stands that are at least 8 to 10 inches (20-25 cm)
high in spring, preferably
more than 12 to 14 inches (30-36 cm) high,
are attractive for nesting by ring-necked pheasants. The grass should
upright, offer partial overhead concealment, and have high stem
densities in parts of the field, with some dead plant
material on the
ground surface. Residual cover also provides important cover for
cocks on "crowing territories".
Managing areas for residual cover
has been described by Frank.
Throughout the initial one-third (April to mid-May)
of the nesting
season in South Dakota, nesting cover consists entirely of residual
vegetation. Residual cover of
weeds and grasses in roadsides,
railroad rights-of-way, fencerows, shelterbelts, tree groves, weedy
ungrazed or lightly grazed pastures, marsh edges, stream
and ditchbanks, and abandoned farmsteads all provide good nesting
In Colorado, southwestern Nebraska, and Kansas, wheat stubble
provides good residual cover for nesting. Grass
hayfields often furnish nesting cover until mowing time, but then become
deathtraps for hens, eggs, and
chicks. Studies throughout the
Midwest have shown that alfalfa and red clover hayfields, particularly
with smooth brome, provide preferred nesting cover for
In south-central Nebraska, 82 percent
of all ring-necked pheasant nests
were established where vegetation made its maximum growth during the
Thirty-two percent of all nests were found in alfalfa,
27 percent were in cool-season grass stands, and 23 percent where
in winter wheat fields. Mixed assemblages of forbs, grasses, and
semiaquatic plants occurred at 16 percent
of all nest sites. Vegetation
complexes of mixed warm- and cool-season grasses and complexes that were
of warm-season species occurred at slightly more than
2 percent of all nest sites.
In many states, roadsides
provide the most important nesting sites.
In eastern South Dakota, roadsides comprised only 3 percent
of the study
area, but 14 percent of all ring-necked pheasant were
hatched in roadside vegetation. A Nebraska study revealed that
more than 25 percent of the ring-necked pheasants produced on the study
area came from roadsides, which made up 1.4
percent of the area.
When roadside cover is not mowed from year to year, nesting use and
hatching success often increase
researchers reported ring-neck pheasant preference for nesting in
narrow, strip cover versus
Brood cover - Brood cover must conceal the hen and her brood, as well as
provide food while chicks
are small. In New Mexico, Knight and
Dixon reported that ideal brood cover is layered with varied
thick from the ground level to 8 inches (20 cm)
high, and fairly heavy between 8 to 20 inches (20-51 cm) above ground.
Twenty- to 40-inch (51-102 cm)-high cover should be thicker than in the
surrounding area. Broods are found in roads
and open areas within
and along field edges in early morning when grass is wet with dew; in
relatively short, open
cover when feeding; in taller, heavier cover for
loafing during the midday; and in unmowed grassland or weedy areas for
nighttime roosting. Dusting and grit-picking sites tend to be
in more exposed areas, usually adjacent to dense escape
Brood cover and home range change as chicks mature. During the early
portion of the brood-rearing season,
in June and July, ring-necked
pheasant chicks use the same cover types that are important for nesting.
areas center around hatching sites during the 3 weeks
after chicks hatch. In Montana initial brood-rearing areas generally
range from 5 to 10 acres (2-4 ha), and in South Dakota from 10 to 30
acres (4-12 ha). Outward movements from hatching
as mobility improves with age. In South Dakota, home ranges average 71
acres (29 ha) by late August,
with alfalfa and grain harvests causing
shifts in young ring-necked pheasant home-range locations.
feeding places for broods are recently cut hay or grain
fields, although some feeding occurs in all types of cover. Cover
consisting of medium-density vegetation is used more commonly in summer
than light or dense cover. Woody cover is
valuable to broods
for shade in hot weather. Small trees and shrubs receive
more use than tall trees or hedgerows
of shelterbelts. Row
crops such as corn, sorghum, and soybeans are not used extensively until
August, when the grain
and much of the stubble have been harvested.
Use of row-crop fields, particularly corn and sorghum
fields, for resting,
feeding and dusting, normally begins early in
August and continues through September and October. By then most young
have dissociated from broods and adults, and young in small groups or
loosely organized flocks more readily use all
Loafing and roosting cover - During spring and summer ring-necked
pheasants loaf in vegetation
suitable for escape as well as other needs.
Choice of loafing sites is usually random among prevalent plant
Brush tickets, shrubrows, and tall weed patches are
favored on hot summer days for shade. In South Dakota, mixed
communities are used heavily during the latter part of
Woody vegetation is preferred for loafing in
the winter. During this
season, ring-necked pheasants prefer loafing sites that provide overhead
than the open canopy often used for summer roosting.
Use of loafing and roosting sites is influenced by severity of winter
weather and depth of snow cover. Dense stands of woody or herbaceous
cover are used on severely cold, windy days,
while relatively sparse
weed patches or small thickets are the most likely choices on mild,
sunny days. In early
winter and when snow is not deep, ring-necked
pheasants usually concentrate near woody cover for daytime loafing.
roosts are in nearby herbaceous cover. When all herbaceous
vegetation is buried under drifting snow, woody cover is used
roosting and loafing. If necessary, ring-necked pheasants use the
leeward side of shelterbelt snowbanks for protection
Winter cover - The importance of winter cover areas to ring-necked
pheasants depends on the
area's distance to food. Cover beyond 1 mile
(1.6 km) from food is seldom used. In South Dakota, Michigan, Iowa, and
Montana, distances usually traveled for food during winter rarely exceed
one-fourth mile (0.4 km).
reported vegetation height in excess of 15 inches (38 cm) and
stem densities ranging from 6 to 30 per square foot at winter
sites in north-central Colorado. Knight and Dixon recommended that
winter cover in New Mexico be more than
15 inches (38 cm) high. with
herbs included in all plantings. In South Dakota, wetlands and
some shelterbelts provide
most of the winter cover. Sweetclover
(Melilotus spp.) and tall, dense stands of cattails, bulrushes, and
vegetation are highly favored when snow cover limits
food availability. In North Dakota, ring-necked pheasants require
wide, dense shelterbelts that provide adequate cover from drifting snow.
In Kansas and Colorado, wheat stubble with
nearby shrub cover such as
plum thickets is used. In Wisconsin wetlands offer good winter cover.
Cattails and bulrushes
in playas provide excellent winter habitat
in the Texas panhandle. Playas with adjacent wheat, corn, and sorghum
have proven to be good winter areas for ring-necked pheasants.
Winter cover in northern Iowa may be limiting since vegetation
many shelterbelts and farmstead windbreaks has been removed or has
matured and no longer provides adequate cover.
cover may be adequate winter cover in the southern latitudes of
ring-necked pheasant's range.
In New Mexico, cover around water
may also be used. Fall plowing, fall burning, trampling and heavy
water, and removal of old tree blocks and belts may be
detrimental to wintering ring-necked pheasants.
FOOD HABITS :
Ring-necked pheasants are omnivorous, eating a wide variety of plant and
animal food. Although
the importance of individual food items varies
among regions and even locally, such variation evidently reflects
in availability rather than preference. Ring-necked
pheasants feed primarily on plant foods, especially waste grains,
also on seeds of weeds and grasses, acorns, buds and soft parts of
herbaceous vegetation, fleshy fruits, insects,
and occasionally snakes
and small rodents.
Chicks live almost exclusively on insects during their first few weeks
of life. Grasshoppers, crickets, and ants are the most common insects
consumed and are excellent sources of protein
and other nutrients needed
by the young pheasants. Other insects eaten include potato beetles,
squash bugs, curculio
beetle, and larvae of all kinds of insects
including gypsy and brown-tail moths and tent caterpillar. The
food habits gradually change and by autumn are similar to those
Adult ring-necked pheasants are mainly
seed-eaters, with cereal grains
comprising their staple food items. In Montana, Weigand and Janson
ring-necked pheasants eat a variety of foods but
cereal grains form the bulk of the diet. Much of the grain (wheat,
rye, and barley) eaten by ring-necked pheasants is waste grain
that has fallen to the ground during harvesting. A Montana
Game Department study in the Bighorn and Yellowstone valleys in the
1940's found that farm crops furnished
77 percent of the ring-necked
pheasant's diet. Wheat, barley, corn and oats were the most important
peas, and sorghum were also eaten but in small
quantities. The seeds of weeds and grass in cultivated crops comprised
about 7 percent of total food consumption. Most important were wild
oats (Avena spp.), Russian-thistle (Salsola kali),
grass (Setaria spp.), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and sweetclover.
Wild fruits amounted to
less than 3 percent of total food. Common
snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) fruits were the most important. Small
of chokecherry, buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis), and wild
rose (Rosa spp.) fruits were also eaten. Leaves and other
made up less than 2 percent of the total food. The main items in this
category were leaves of alfalfa,
prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola),
sweetclover, and root fragments of prickly lettuce uprooted by plowing.
the laying season, hens regularly seek out snail shells and other
high-calcium grit needed for egg shell production.
autumn, foods from harvest wastage (corn, small grains, etc.), wild
seeds, berries, succulent vegetation, and
insects are fed upon for
building up deposits of fat for the winter season.
Fruits and buds of woody plants are
important winter foods of
ring-necked pheasants. During severe winters, when preferred
food is scarce, ring-necked
pheasants feed on buds from shrubs. If
salt marshes are still open, they search for small mollusks and
In South Dakota, the winter diet of ring-necked
pheasants contained a larger percentage of high-energy farm-crop grain
during December, January, and February than at any other time of the
year. Corn made up 75 percent of winter food;
wheat, oats, and barley
averaged about 10 percent, and weed seeds about 5 percent. Sunflower
was the most important
weed seed at this time, followed by Kochia spp.,
ragweed, and foxtail (Alopecurus spp.). Kochia was unimportant as a
food item except during the winter months.
Some predators that eat ring-necked pheasants
or their eggs include
skunks (Spilogale putorius, Mephitis spp., Conepatus leuconotus),
raccoons (Procyon lotor),
domestic cats (Felis catus), dogs (Canis
familiaris), coyotes (Canis latrans), foxes (Urocyon spp., Vulpes spp.),
(Mustela spp.), minks (Mustela vison), ground squirrels
(Spermophilus spp.), voles (Muridae), rats (Muridae), eagles
hawks (Accipitridae), falcons (Falconidae), owls
(Tytonidae and Strigidae), crows (Corvus spp.), magpies (Pica spp.),
jays (Corvidae), grackles (Quiscalus spp.), and gulls (Larus spp.).
Losses due to predation are generally highest
in late winter and early
spring, apparently because at this time ring-necked pheasants are often
forced into the open
to find food. Predation accounted for 80.8
percent of all classified deaths among a radio-tagged sample of 244
hens on the Waterlow Wildlife Area in Wisconsin. More than
60 percent of the losses due to predation were attributed
predators. The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) was implicated in four-fifths of
these deaths. Predator control
is sometimes necessary to protect
small populations or when an new population is being established.
Ring-necked pheasants are a game bird and are hunted in many states.
Grazing can have a negative
impact on ring-necked pheasants. Heavy
grazing of shelterbelts destroys the value of these areas for nesting,
and general cover. Prolonged or heavy browsing of the
woody plants can eventually kill the shelterbelt. Grazing of ditchbanks
and other uncultivated areas may reduce or eliminate cover value for
Drainage of wetlands
often removes critical ring-necked pheasant
nesting, brooding, roosting and protective winter habitat.
old, drained wetlands that have not proven agriculturally
productive can improve ring-necked pheasant habitat.
applied to ring-necked pheasant habitats may kill the bird
directly, during application, or indirectly, when ring-necked
eat treated insects or vegetation . Heavy use of herbicides can be
detrimental by limiting cover .
Farming operations such as mowing and plowing often have a negative
impact on ring-necked pheasants. Mowing during
the nesting season often
destroys ring-necked pheasant nests, broods, and hens.
Recommended farm practices for promoting
ring-necked pheasants and an
explanation of their typical effects on the birds have been described.