In the winter mornings and evening in Boundary County, moose, elk, coyotes, mule deer and white-tailed deer might be seen. Ponds are frozen over and remaining waterfowl move to the ice-free Kootenai River. They continue to feed in grain fields. Bald eagles concentrate around the flocks of ducks and geese. Red-tailed hawks hunt for mice in the fields. Elk herds often wander down from the Selkirk Mountains to the Kootenai River Valley in the evenings and head back up to the forest at first light in the morning. However, it was a ring-necked pheasant that caught my attention last week as I was traveling the Farm to Market road in northern Boundary County.
The beautiful rooster pheasant ran across the road in front of me and into the adjacent field. I barely had time to stop and get my camera out for a quick photo, capturing his beauty before he ran off into the field and to safety.
Ring-necked pheasants are native to China and East Asia, but they have been successfully introduced in other parts of the world, including North America and Idaho. Males are vibrantly colored with blue-green heads, red face wattles, and distinctive white neck rings. Females are a rather plain buff brown, but both sexes have long, pointed tails. These beautiful birds are wily in their habitat and much sought after by game hunters. Thousands of them are harvested each year, but management and reintroduction programs boost many populations.
Males (also known as “roosters”) establish harems of hens — as many as a dozen female birds. Each spring a male delineates and defends his territory and his harem from aggressive rivals. Such encounters can lead to vicious battles.
During the nesting process the male defends the territory by taking a raised perch, giving crowing calls while briefly drumming with his wings. In courtship, the male struts in a half-circle around the female with back and tail feathers tilted toward her, with the rear wing drooping and the face wattles swollen. Nest sites are on the ground in dense cover. The nest is a shallow depression lined with grass, leaves and weeds.
The birds prefer fields and farmland with brushy cover, though they also inhabit woodland undergrowth and some wetlands. Females nest in fields or in border habitat and lay a dozen or more eggs, which they incubate with no help from the rooster. Young pheasants grow up quickly and can fly within two weeks. They will remain with their mother for six or seven weeks. Many pheasant eggs are destroyed by predators or by humans (particularly in farm country), and young birds also have a high mortality rate. In autumn, ring-necked pheasants form flocks in which they will live until the following spring.
These birds are most comfortable on the ground, where they forage for grains, seeds, berries, insects, and, occasionally, small animals. They can fly and launch themselves airborne with an abrupt, noisy takeoff, but typically run from trouble. Pheasant flights are merely short-distance dashes for cover. The ring-necked pheasant’s prime habitat is in crop fields. The secondary habitat includes wetlands, grasslands and dense bushes and tree.
The most common pheasant predators are foxes, coyotes, hawks, eagles, owls, weasels, skunks, snakes and raccoons. The average lifespan of the full grown ring-necked pheasant is 10-20 months. I don’t take pheasants for granted; it doesn’t seem that pheasants are as plentiful as they use to be so I celebrate every ring-neck I see.
Enjoy the outdoors and the beauty of Boundary County!