Like the Hungarian partridge, the ring-necked pheasant is not a native game species. Introduced to Canada from Asia in the 1800’s, it ranges across much of southern Canada and in the Atlantic Provinces is found in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Only Nova Scotia has a hunting season for wild birds, and it is restricted to male birds only. Hunting in New Brunswick and PEI is confined to pheasant preserves.
The male pheasant or “cock” is distinctive. His white neck-ring, distinctive red eye-patch, iridescent purple head, and long tapered tail make it easy to distinguish from other game birds. The female pheasant or “hen”, is a more subdued pale brown colour, lacks a neckring, and resembles a domestic hen. Other colour variations are sometimes seen in both sexes. Males are about 90 cm long and weigh 1.4 kg; females are about 50 cm long and weigh 0.9 kg.
Pheasants are a bird of farmlands, pastures, and grassy woodland edges. Crops such as corn, hay, and small grains are preferred foods. Brushy areas, marsh, and woodland serve as cover.
Nesting occurs from May to June with 6 to 15 buff-olive eggs laid in a grass-lined depression concealed in dense grass or weeds. Generally, females will lay a second clutch if the first is lost to predation or human disturbance. At first the chicks feed largely on insects, but soon shift to the adult diet of grass seeds, berries, and grain.
A wary game bird, pheasants normally take advantage of ground cover to run from an approaching hunter. When forced to flush, cocks take to the air with a noisy cackling sound. Birds often level off at around 8 metres, moving at about 50 km/hr in alternating wing beating and gliding. Hunters using a well-trained dog for pointing and retrieving have a decided advantage over those who do not.
Winter weather conditions are a crucial survival factor for pheasant. Deep snow, inaccessible foods, and a general lack of habitat tend to limit the populations of wild pheasants in the Atlantic Provinces.