Pheasants in hiding

There are ring-necked pheasants in many states, of course, Ohio and Michigan and Wisconsin, Pennsyl-vania, New York, Maine, even Nova Scotia.  There are ring-necked pheasants in Washington and Oregon.  But Iowa is part of the heart of pheasant country in the United States, Iowa, North and South Dakota and Nebraska. This is the area where fish and wildlife officials say there are the most pheasants.

The ring-necked pheasant, like the house sparrow and starling and park pigeon, is an import, an immigrant. Originally the pheasant was a bird of Asia. It was imported and established in Europe many years ago and first imported from there to North America. There were pheasants imported from Europe and released in New York in 1728 and 1731, before New York was a state, before there was a United States. George Washington had pheasants shipped from England and released them at Mount Vernon.

Those early introductions of pheasants in North America, those birds from Europe, all failed. The birds died out, disappeared. The first successful introduction of pheasants to North America was birds from China released in Oregon in the Willamette Valley in 1881. Those birds multiplied like house sparrows and starlings.

After the successful introduction in Oregon more and more pheasants were imported from China and from Manchuria and Korea and Japan. They were released in nearly every state of the U.S. They died out in the South and Southwest and remained in reasonable to small numbers in some states, in spite of the establishment of state game farms where they were raised, then released annually. But in the heart- land of America, once the core of the great American prairie, in farm land, corn and soybean land in the eastern part of the area, wheat and pasture in the west, the pheasant flourished.

The American ring-necked pheasant, now considered a species, is a hybrid really, or a mongrel, a combination of species. There are more than forty species of pheasant in Asia and many of them are called ring-neck in English. Our ring-neck is an amalgamation of several, perhaps many of those pheasants. Though an import originally it’s now a distinctly American bird, a bird I expected to see as we drove across Iowa. But we didn’t. Maybe it’s due to the weather, I thought, as rain pelted our windshield. Wait until tomorrow. Wrong again. The next day the sky was clear, the sun bright and again we saw no pheasants.

We’ll see pheasants in South Dakota, I prophesied. South Dakota is the heart of the heart of pheasant country in North America. South Dakota has so many pheasants citizens of the state have made it their state bird. Hunters from many states visit South Dakota every fall to hunt pheasants.

We saw one pheasant in South Dakota. It was in the highway, not beside the road, and it was dead, a victim of the passing traffic.  But pheasants were there I’m sure, in Iowa and in South Dakota. They were in the corn and the grass, hiding, just as they did when I was a boy in Iowa and went pheasant hunting with my brother and Dad.

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