This fall thousands of hunters will bring millions of ringneck pheasants home to be converted into delicious meals. Pheasants have been around so long that many people think of them as native birds. They’re not but they provide a lesson on how to structure a modern yard to attract wildlife.
In the 1880s Judge Owen Denny was stationed as a government agent in China. He and his wife took a fancy to colorful and tasty pheasants, which are native to Asia. They had some captured and shipped to Portland, Oregon where Denny’s brother released them on the family farm. They reproduced like crazy, and just ten years later Oregon opened the nation’s first pheasant season. About 50,000 were shot.
Pheasants began spreading out on their own and people speeded the process by capturing many and releasing them all over the country. The birds never took hold in the hot humid south but thrived in northern farmland that was a patchwork of grain and hayfields separated by brushy fence rows. By the mid-1900s they were abundant in the Midwest and eastward to the Atlantic wherever farms provided the right habitat.
Pheasants live near human activity. They love farmland yet shun forests. The bird did well until enormous changes in agriculture took place in recent years.