Press Release


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Pheasant Hunters - Keep a Sharp Eye

By Bruce Haak, Idaho Department of Fish and Game It was a head scratcher for sure. In late December, an Idaho Fish and Game employee shot the ring-necked pheasant featured here. The bird exhibited the tell-tale white neck ring, darkly colored head, red eye-ring and reddish neck coloring of a male, which can be harvested legally; the bird also exhibited traits characteristic of a pheasant hen. The bird was uniformly mottled brown from the shoulders down, and lacked spurs normally associated with pheasant roosters. It also lacked the long, flashy tail feathers of a male. Upon closer, internal inspection, however, the bird was found to have both male and female sex organs. The result was that the bird exhibited both male and female pheasant sexual characteristics. It's not known just how often such genetic mix-ups occur in the pheasant world. But such occurrences are likely rare for this, one of North America's most celebrated game birds. Pheasants were initially brought to North America from China around 1890 by Judge O. O. Denny in western Oregon. From these humble beginnings, pheasant populations spread throughout most of the United States. Their success as an introduced game bird comes from their ability to adapt to man-made habitats and to thrive in agricultural environments, especially where cereal grains are produced. Pheasants have provided hunting opportunities for many generations of American shotgun enthusiasts. While partridges breed in pairs, male pheasants will breed with more than one female. The males are brightly colored, presumably to attract the attention of the females. In contrast, the females are mottled brown. Because females incubate and rear the young, being well camouflaged helps them avoid the attention of potential predators, especially while sitting on nests continuously for several weeks. To maintain good annual reproduction, most states, including Idaho, limit the harvest to male pheasants, which are commonly referred to as either cocks or roosters. For a time after hatching, young male and female pheasants look similar in appearance until the bright plumage and distinctive white neck ring of the males grows in. For this reason, Idaho's pheasant hunting season begins in mid-October, when the distinguishing plumage of the males allows for positive identification on the wing. In these days of rapidly accelerating habitat loss, limited access for hunters, and dwindling pheasant populations, the pheasant hunting resource must be guarded carefully. So, bird hunters must identify their quarry before they shoot. The goal is to harvest surplus male pheasants from the population, not the females that will be producing more pheasants next spring. And hopefully, they won't have to look quite as close as the Fish and Game employee. Bruce Haak is the regional wildlife biologist in the Southwest Region.