The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 4, 2008

Ring-necked Pheasant


(Photo by Tom Brownrigg)

There are two species of “ring-necked” birds in town right now. One is the Ring-necked Duck which has a very distinctive white ring around its bill – yes, its bill. This is noticeable even when the bird is far off in the proverbial bush – or in this case out on the pond. When the bird is in the hand you would notice that there is another ring, a subtle dark-colored one, around its neck. Today’s topic is the other ring-necked bird, the pheasant.

Name. The Ring-necked Pheasant’s scientific name is Phasianus colchicus where Phasianus is Latin for pheasant but it is derived from the Greek. The name was given to birds first brought into Greece from around the River Phasis on the east coast of the Black Sea in an area then known as Colchis and now known as the Republic of Georgia. The common name of the bird refers to the bold white ring on the neck of the male. Ring-necked Pheasants are close relatives of grouse and quail and are grouped with turkeys, ptarmigan and prairie chickens in the order Galliformes.

When and where seen. Leslie Thomas spotted a male Ring-necked Pheasant strutting his stuff, proudly displaying the gaudy plumage that is the birthright of his sex, in the field beside Kimball Ice Cream Stand on Bedford Road on March 27. These birds are not known to like ice cream. It was probably the open pasture with brushy edges that attracted him, and there may have been some impressionable females nearby. Ring-necked Pheasants are not seen as frequently as they used to be when there was more farm land and less urban sprawl.

Immigration. The Ring-necked Pheasant is not native to North America – it is a foreign species imported to fill a special need – one that our local birds would not have wanted to fill. (I wouldn’t be surprised to find a few in Mitt Romney’s yard.) The birds were introduced to satisfy hunters. The first “successful” introduction was of 30 birds in Oregon back in 1881. In Massachusetts, they were first introduced in 1906, a time when the state was approximately 20% forest and 80% fields and pasture which suited the pheasants.

That is no longer the case and for the past 15 years the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has released an average of 40,000 of these birds per year. Of those, around 5,000 were released in the Northeast District. The closest locations to Carlisle would be Pepperell, Townsend and Groton.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission says there is an annual “removal” rate of over 90% for roosters and 60% for hens. Removal is not only because of hunting but is also due to disease and predation. It is a ground-nesting bird and the eggs and chicks are especially vulnerable to foxes, raccoons, coyotes, weasels, crows and hawks.

Distinguishing characteristics. The male Ring-necked Pheasant is very distinctive. It stands about a foot tall and has a very long orange-brown tail neatly marked with black bars. It has an iridescent green head with red patches on its cheeks. The white ring on the neck is like an open-necked collar (it doesn’t usually meet in the front). The chest is golden and the body is a rich mix of golds, reds, browns and black. The hen is slightly smaller and colored in muted grey, brown and black for camouflage. Pheasants in North America are hybrids of various Asian and eastern-European sub-species that are bred for sport hunting. Some of these males don’t have the white neck ring.

References. Cornell Lab of Ornithology at (search on “pheasant”); The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley; Pennsylvania Game Commission, Ring-necked Pheasant, Chuck Fergus.

Please feel free to write the Biodiversity Corner on some species you have seen recently – or tell me what you are seeing. The only requirements are that the subject exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. Send a note to

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