The Chinese Ring-necked Pheasant, released in South Dakota 102 years ago, has become more than just our state bird. Since its introduction onto the prairie, the pheasant has exploded in population, changed the way some farmers and ranchers maintain habitat, and created one of the greatest hunting seasons in the United States.
Since its adoption as the state bird in 1943, the pheasant now lives in every county in South Dakota. However, due to habitat, the largest populations are found east of the Missouri River and also Jones, Tripp, and Gregory counties.
Native to Russia, the pheasant has been introduced to many parts of the world as a game bird. The Chinese Ring-necked Pheasant has been specifically named for a number of subspecies that have a band of white feathers around their neck.
Pheasants lay their eggs in the early spring and raise the chicks throughout the summer. They forage on everything from leaves and insects, to plants and berries. The thick prairie grass provides the cover pheasants need for protection and nesting.
Pheasant hunting has grown right along with pheasant populations. There are now more than 3,000 private pheasant hunting operations in South Dakota. These farms and ranches maintain pheasant specific habitat by leaving strips of crop as feed for the pheasants and planting trees for winter cover.
The third weekend in October marks the beginning of pheasant season in South Dakota. It has now become a tradition for families to get together and enjoy the fall pheasant hunt. Last year more than 90,000 non-resident and 80,000 residents enjoyed pheasant hunting in South Dakota.
The pheasant has truly become an icon for the state. October is the month that brings hunters from near and far to enjoy one of South Dakota’s most recognized symbols, the ring-necked pheasant.