The Ring-necked Pheasant, a colorful game bird sought widely by hunters, has been successfully introduced throughout the north and western regions of the United States and into southern Canada. In 1881, the first successful introduction of the Ring-necked Pheasant, a native of Asia, was accomplished in the Willamette Valley of Oregon (Wechsler 1986). Since that time, at least 40 states have attempted to establish Ring-necked Pheasants; about 30 states currently have sustainable populations, with the highest densities in the Great Plains states, from Kansas north to Montana and the Dakotas and east to Illinois (Wechsler 1986, Dahlgren 1988).
The Ring-necked Pheasant was first released in coastal Texas on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge during 1933-34 (Halloran & Howard 1956). Four hundred birds were released at this site, but the last were observed in 1939. The establishment of Ring-necked Pheasants in the Southern High Plains (Panhandle) of Texas were most likely the results of immigration from Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas and from unrecorded private releases in the Panhandle (Guthery et al. 1980). Ring-necked Pheasants were first reported in the Panhandle region in 1940 and by 1950 they occupied 17 counties (Jones & Felts 1950). Currently, the Panhandle region is the stronghold for Ring-necked Pheasants in Texas.
DISTRIBUTION: Ring-necked Pheasants are well established year round residents in the Texas Panhandle region. The TBBAP reveals that most birds nest in this region; of the 5 records from outside this area, there are no confirmed Ring-necked Pheasant nests. Ring-necked Pheasants breed and nest in at least 34 counties in the Panhandle, according to the TBBAP. Ring-necked Pheasant nests occurring in other regions of Texas are probably from annual releases of birds by landowners.
SEASONAL OCCURRENCE: The nesting season for the Ring-necked Pheasant lasts about 3 months. The earliest nest recorded was initiated 4 April and the latest nest was 5 July (Berthelsen 1989). The TBBAP lists 10 July as the latest date a nest was observed; since incubation lasts from 23-25 days (Ehrlich et al. 1988) the nest could have been initiated in June. Peak nest initiation occurs in late April (Berthelsen et al. 1990) or early May (Taylor 1980) with the timing of nesting influenced most by availability of nesting habitat and weather conditions.
BREEDING HABITAT: Ring-necked Pheasants are solitary nesters that commonly inhabit pastures, hayfields, small-grain fields, and wetlands. In the Panhandle region, they commonly nest and raise their broods in playas (Whiteside & Guthery 1983) and seeded grasslands (Berthelsen et al. 1990). The structure of vegetation appears more important than the composition of vegetation in determining nest site selection. Due to their early nesting behavior residual vegetation is extremely important in nest site selection. Nests are shallow depressions, 10-18 cm (4-7 in) wide and 3-8 cm (1-3 in) deep, concealed beneath bushes or in grass or herbs (Wechsler 1986). Most nests are loosely lined with leaves or dried grasses; additional vegetation and breast feathers are added to the nest as egg laying and incubation progresses (Wechsler 1986). Clutch size ranges from 6-15 eggs (Ehrlich et al. 1988) and average 11.2 eggs in the Panhandle (Berthelsen et al.1990). Dump nesting, by several females, occurs occasionally with nests containing 20-50 eggs (Wechsler 1986). Most eggs laid in normal nests are fertile (91%), but nest success is low (22%) (Berthelsen et al. 1990). Low nest success however, is offset by nest densities of up to 250/square km (98/square mi) in the Panhandle (Berthelsen et al. 1990).
STATUS: Ring-necked Pheasants are generally thought to be suffering a decline in abundance throughout North America. Aside from the Panhandle region, Ring-necked Pheasants have not established sustainable populations in Texas. In the Panhandle, even though birds were first reported in 1940, populations capable of sustaining themselves were probably not achieved until the 1970s (Guthery et al. 1980). Spring hen densities of 341/square km (131/square mi) have been reported in the Panhandle region (Berthelsen et al. 1990). In a four-county area (Castro, Deaf Smith, Hale, and Parmer Counties – mostly in latilong 34102) an estimated 174,204 Ring-necked Pheasant chicks were produced annually (Berthelsen et al. 1989).
Texas has had a two-week Ring-necked Pheasant hunting season with a two-bird-per-day (cocks only) bag limit since 1958 (Guthery et al. 1980). There is little chance of over-harvesting Ring-necked Pheasants in this region, even with more liberalized regulations (Berthelsen et al. 1990). Changes in habitat use, mainly reduced surface water and agricultural grains, will have the most impact on future Ring-necked Pheasant populations in Texas. Agricultural practices that promote the establishment of grassland cover at a grand scale, has the most potential for providing high quality nesting and brood rearing habitat.
Text by Jim Anderson (ca. 1992)
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