A Backyard “Pheasant” Surprise
A lonely, male ring-neck pheasant moved onto my property in early May. I say lonely in pure human speculation, but also because he is the only pheasant we have seen and his loud penetrating kok-cack call emanating from our back pasture seems to be asking “hello, are there any other pheasants out there?”
I was afraid all his racket might attract our not-so-pheasant-friendly neighbors, in particular the local coyote family. The pheasant remained undaunted, hanging out in our pasture most of the time and occasionally, like a pet chicken, wandering close to the house. One day we came home to find him enjoying the birdbath. Julie speculated he was the culprit biting chunks from low-hanging ripe tomatoes. We didn’t hear his call much in September, though I did see him working the pasture edges in search of bugs and seeds. Perhaps by instinct he knows hunting season is coming, and it’s time to quiet down and lay low.
Back in the early decades of the last century my grandfather, Harry Gould, was a field gamebird hunter of some renown. He raised pointer dogs for hunting, especially the English setter breed, and hunted pheasant and other field birds. It was at my grandparent’s house where I saw a pheasant for the first time, or should I say parts of the bird. Hanging from a peg in the shed outside their kitchen back door was the long tail and wings of a pheasant — the successful results of a recent hunting trip and, perhaps, dinner that evening. Grampa Gould also had a prized specimen stuffed and proudly displayed on their fireplace mantle.
The neighborhood where I grew up had several large adjoining fields, and we saw pheasant, bobwhite and woodcock on a regular basis. The visiting ring-necked male pheasant at our property in Putnam made me realize I had not seen one in the wild for many years. I did some research about this uncommonly beautiful bird, and this is what I found.
Ring-necked pheasant are not native to our continent. They were introduced from Asia in the 1880s and soon became North America’s most popular upland gamebird. They are large compared to other gamebirds. With a long, thin pointed tail and total length of 30 to 36 inches, they are larger than a chicken.
The adult males have an iridescent gold and copper colored plumage, red eye patch and brilliant blueish-green head, red face and crisp white collar or neck-ring. The female has a shorter tail, and its mottled sandy brown color aids in camouflage from predators during ground nesting season.
Like other members of the grouse family, pheasants have powerful breast muscles that produce a burst of strength, allowing the birds to escape by flushing nearly vertical into the air and reaching speeds of almost 40 miles per hour.
“The rise of the ringneck in America is truly amazing, 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 “game” pheasant, was found chiefly in the region from the Caucasus eastward though China to Japan. In its choice of habitat the pheasant has always preferred to live in open countryside where grains and grasses 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 website All About Birds provides a map of the ring-necked pheasant’s year-round regions in the United States. They are found in northeastern coastal areas from the Maritimes south to Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut then west through Pennsylvania and into the Midwest, then north from Oklahoma to North Dakota and into Montana.
They tend to avoid heavily forested areas, and prefer farmlands, pasture, and grassy woodland edges. Our region is predominately wooded, and that is most likely why I had not seen or heard them in the wild in decades until the lonely male took up summer residence in our back pasture.
Ring-neck pheasants today are primarily raised on gamebird farms and released into specific hunting areas throughout the country. The pheasant visiting us for the summer months likely either escaped a nearby gamebird 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 lots of information about pheasant hunting in our region from the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) website at:
Each year pheasants are purchased and released on state-owned land, state-managed land and Permit Required Areas. Stocking begins each year just prior to opening day on the third Saturday in October. All pheasant hunters must purchase a resident or nonresident small game firearms hunting license (Conservation License) and a Resident Game Bird Conservation Stamp.
CT DEEP also provides an easy-to-access Hunting Area List from the annual Connecticut Hunting and Trapping Guide, which is also found online at the link below.
Pheasant hunting locations are the 3rd column. You’ll find locations throughout the state and can scroll down the list to find the areas located in Eastern Connecticut. There are several in The Last Green Valley.
CT DEEP also reminds those heading out to hunt pheasant about a few important tips on safety and hunter ethics.
- Wear 400 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing above the waist that is visible from all sides. An orange hat, in addition to an orange coat/vest is strongly recommended.
- Leave the field or stay inactive while pheasant stockers are on the area.
- Respect landowners and others using the property.
- Bring a junior hunter to pass on the tradition.
- Report violations by calling the DEEP Emergency Dispatch at 860-424-3333.
I’ll remember the summer of 2022 not only for the lingering heatwave and weeks of severe drought conditions, but also for the lonely pheasant who decided our pasture and backyard was the perfect vacation spot that even included a private bath.
We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. I hope you’ll join us to enjoy it, care for it and pass it on.
Information for this column was sourced from The Great Outdoors, published in 1947 and edited by Joe Godrey, Jr. and Frank Dufresne, The Cornell Lab for Ornithology website All About Birds, CT DEEP Wildlife Division website, and the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds Eastern Region.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at 970-774-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Exploring The Last Green Valley, Sunday, October 9, 2022
The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the following article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.
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