OK, just call me uninformed.
When I lived in Pennsylvania, I saw these birds everyday. They would take flight every time I rode my horse through a field, sometimes startling my steed. When I first moved to Niagara Falls, I would see the pheasants near the river in open fields, but no more.
Unfortunately for them, they became one of North America’s most popular game birds, but that is not why I have missed the Ring-necked Pheasant all this time. In fact, it is precisely why I did see this one, read on…
They have declined in the Northeast, mainly due to current farming practices ruining pheasant habitats. Monoculture farming has been eliminating edge habitat and draining wetlands. Spraying weeds and mowing roadsides has taken a toll on where birds forage since many birds are seen along the roadside, like the one in this post. This is things I did know.
With declining undergrowth in forests and farms eliminating hedgerows or draining wetlands, there is no surprise these birds have been getting more rare in our area.
Now What I Did Not Know
I had stopped at a country restaurant for lunch on one of my birding trips, and the friendly owner asked me why I was in the area. I was dressed a little better or more hip than these country folk, so I did stand out.
I excitedly told him I was birdwatching (no surprise to him I guess) and saw my first pheasant in twenty years. I explained how they were everywhere when I was growing up and I missed them when moving here. Kinda like the fireflies, I miss them too.
He loudly laughed and told me there are quite a few game farms in this area and what I was seeing was a bird that avoided being shot by the hunters at the game farm. He found it humorous that a birdwatcher would even care about a pheasant. I said it was my prize find of the day and I was pleased anyway.
I was wondering why the pheasant did not rapidly take to the air when I exited my Jeep. I am pretty good with birds, but not that good!
It just crossed in front of me, stopping to look at me in the middle of the road, then turned and walked casually into the brush by the stream. This made me a bit sad… the poor bird’s days are numbered being so conditioned to people.
Game farms raise the birds to be released for hunters to shoot. To me, this is a barbaric practice, killing them just for sport. Most are killed as soon as they are released from the cage too. Not much sport in that. Why not just kill them in the cage to make sure you shoot it? After all, this one got away.
The restaurant owner raised Golden Pheasants and showed me photos of these beautiful Chinese natives. They were not raised for the hunt (I asked) but the Ring-necked, also native to China, were. I just wanted to take this beautiful bird home with me. As tame as it was, I bet it would have let me. They eat slugs like chickens do, no? He could earn his keep.
Next… Our Story Looking For Eagles. Yes, we found them but not without help. It is a story about us being terrible birdwatchers.