A lone male ring-necked pheasant moved onto my property in early May. I say solitary in pure human speculation, but also because it’s the only pheasant we’ve ever seen and its loud, piercing kok-cack call emanating from our back pasture seems to be asking “hello, are there any other pheasants out there?”
I was afraid that all their ruckus might attract our not-so-pheasant-friendly neighbors, particularly the local family of coyotes. The pheasant remained undaunted, hanging out in our pasture most of the time and occasionally, like a pet chicken, wandering near the house. One day we came home to find him enjoying the birdbath. Julie speculated that he was to blame for biting off pieces of low-hanging ripe tomatoes. We didn’t hear much of his call in September, though I did see him working the edges of the grass for bugs and seeds. Perhaps instinctively he knows that hunting season is coming, and it’s time to calm down and go unnoticed.
In the early decades of the last century, my grandfather, Harry Gould, was a country fowler of some renown. He bred pointing dogs for hunting, especially the English setter breed, and hunted pheasants and other field birds. It was at my grandparents’ house that I saw a pheasant for the first time, or rather parts of the bird. Hanging from a peg in the shed outside the back door of the kitchen was the long tail and wings of a pheasant, the successful results of a recent hunting trip and, perhaps, tonight’s dinner. Grandpa Gould also had a prized specimen stuffed and proudly displayed on the mantelpiece.
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The neighborhood where I grew up had several large fields next to each other, and we saw pheasants, quail and woodcock regularly. The male ring-necked pheasant that visited our property in Putnam made me realize that I had not seen one in the wild for many years. I did some research on this unusually beautiful bird, and this is what I found.
The ring-necked pheasant is not native to our continent. They were introduced from Asia in the 1880s and soon became the most popular highland game bird in North America. They are large compared to other game birds. With a long, slender pointed tail and a total length of 30 to 36 inches, they are larger than a chicken.
Adult males have iridescent gold and coppery plumage, a red eye patch, and a bright bluish-green head, red face, and a crisp white collar or neck-ring. The female has a shorter tail and its mottled sandy brown color helps camouflage it from predators during the ground nesting season.
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Like other members of the grouse family, pheasants have powerful pectoral muscles that produce a burst of force, allowing the birds to escape by launching themselves nearly vertically into the air and reaching speeds of nearly 40 miles per hour.
“The rise of the ringneck in the United States is truly surprising, though perhaps no more remarkable than its earlier spread throughout most of Europe. In its native range, the ring-necked type of pheasant, or the so-called “hunting” pheasant, was found primarily in the region from the Caucasus east through China to Japan. In its choice of habitat, the pheasant has always preferred to live in open country where grain and grass flourish,” writes Frank Defresne, from his chapter “Pheasant Shooting,” in “The Great Outdoors,” an anthology edited by Joe Godrey Jr. and Dufresne.
The Cornell Lab for Ornithology All About Birds website provides a map of year-round ring-necked pheasant regions in the United States. They are found in the coastal areas of the northeast from the Maritimes south to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, then west through Pennsylvania and the Midwest, then north from Oklahoma to North Dakota and into Montana.
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They tend to avoid densely forested areas, preferring farmland, pastures, and grassy forest edges. Our region is predominantly forested, and that’s very likely why I hadn’t seen or heard of them in the wild in decades until the lone male took up residence in our back pasture.
Today, ring-necked pheasants are raised primarily on game bird farms and released into specific hunting areas across the country. The pheasant that visited us during the summer months likely either escaped from a nearby game bird farm or made its way to our back pasture from the nearest pheasant hunting area at West Thompson Lake, about 3 miles away.
I found a lot of information about pheasant hunting in our region on the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) website at: https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Hunting/Pheasant-Hunting
Each year, pheasants are purchased and released on state-owned land, state-managed land, and permit-required areas. Stocking begins each year just before opening day on the third Saturday in October. All pheasant hunters must purchase a resident or non-resident small-game firearms license (conservation license) and a resident game bird conservation stamp.
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CT DEEP also provides an easily accessible List of Hunting Areas from the annual Connecticut Hunting and Trapping Guide, also found online at: portal.ct.gov/-/media/DEEP/hunting_trapping/pdf_files/2022HuntingAreaList. pdf
Pheasant hunting locations are the third column. You’ll find locations throughout the state, and you can scroll down the list to find areas located in Eastern Connecticut. There are several in The Last Green Valley.
CT DEEP also reminds pheasant hunters of some important tips on hunter safety and ethics.
- Wear 400 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing above the waist that is visible from all sides. An orange hat is strongly recommended, in addition to an orange coat/vest.
- Leave the field or stand idle while pheasants are in the area.
- Respect landowners and other people who use the property.
- Bring a junior hunter to pass on the tradition.
- Report violations by calling the DEEP Emergency Dispatch at 860-424-3333.
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I will remember the summer of 2022 not only for the persistent heat wave and weeks of severe drought conditions, but also for the lone pheasant who decided our pasture and backyard was the perfect vacation spot that even included a private bathroom.
We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. I hope you will join us to enjoy it, take care of it and pass it on.
Information in this column was obtained from The Great Outdoors, published in 1947 and edited by Joe Godrey, Jr. and Frank Dufresne, The Cornell Lab for Ornithology All About Birds website, the CT DEEP Wildlife Division website, and the Audubon Society Field Guide to North Eastern Region of American Birds.
Bill Reid is the chief ranger for The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. You can reach him at 970-774-3300 or [email protected].