The ring-necked pheasant is long-tailed and chickenlike. The adult male is an iridescent mix of bronze, green, and black, with a red fleshy patch of skin around the eye and usually a white ring around the neck. The female is brown with a pointed tail, not rounded as in grouse and prairie-chickens. The voice of male is a harsh two-syllable SCAA-konk; the hen’s is a soft keea, keea.
Similar species: The greater prairie-chicken, a state-endangered species native to Missouri’s prairies, is also chickenlike but has a much shorter tail and more strongly barred coloration.
Length: 32 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).
Found only in about the northern quarter of Missouri, and in the Bootheel region.
Habitat and Conservation
Pheasants forage in fields of row crops and in grasslands. They prefer places with undisturbed dense vegetation 9-17 inches tall within a quarter of a mile of cultivated land, and where 70-85 percent of the land is in cultivation. Attempts to establish huntable populations of nonnative bird species in Missouri have had only limited success. The ring-necked pheasant is the only one to be successfully established, in northern Missouri and in a few counties in the central Mississippi Lowlands.
In fall and winter, pheasants eat grain and other seeds, leaves, roots, berries, nuts, and some insects. In spring and summer, during breeding season, they need more protein to support egg production and the extra activity of courting, mating, and nesting. At that time, they eat more insects and other small animals, and more green leafy materials. Like other gallinaceous (chickenlike) birds, they mostly feed on the ground, scratching, digging, and pecking as they forage.
Introduced to North America in the 1880s. In Missouri, an uncommon permanent resident in the northern Glaciated Plains and rare in the central part of the Mississippi Lowlands.
Males (cocks) perform mating displays to attract females (hens) to their territory, giving a loud, harsh, two-syllable call followed by a softer whir of flapping wings that can be heard if one is close enough. These advertisements may attract several hens. Cocks frequently have several hens with which they mate. The cocks’ territorial displays can be heard most often in the spring, but they may “crow” throughout the year. Nests are made on the ground, and 7-15 eggs are typical in a clutch.
Originally from Asia, pheasants can be bred in captivity and have been introduced in many countries as a gamebird. The Romans were some of the first to introduce it to Europe. It’s very popular in Great Britain. And although it’s not native there, it’s the official state bird of South Dakota.
Pheasants, chickens, grouse, quail, and other ground-dwelling relatives evade their many predators by making sudden, explosive bursts of flight. Their short, blunt, deeply cupped wings are perfect for short, quick distances. Their wing shape and flying muscles are inefficient for long flights.
Where to See Species
About 350 species of birds are likely to be seen in Missouri, though nearly 400 have been recorded within our borders. Most people know a bird when they see one — it has feathers, wings, and a bill. Birds are warm-blooded, and most species can fly. Many migrate hundreds or thousands of miles. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs (often in a nest), and the parents care for the young. Many communicate with songs and calls.