Ring-necked PheasantPhasianus colchicus Linnaeus
Status Introduced. Uncommon to common local resident. Breeds. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to introduce this bird into Nova Scotia, it is now uncommon to fairly common over parts of the more settled areas of the province. Although the present population of pheasants is of recent origin (1935), an unsuccessful attempt to establish them was made over a hundred years ago. Documentary evidence is provided by an extract taken from the Christian Messenger of 24 September 1856, which reads:
The second attempt to bring them here was made about 1890, when the Mic-Mac Club of Halifax liberated a number near the Northwest Arm. It too failed. The next effort took place in Yarmouth County early in the present century when a number of sportsmen released about 50. Of this introduction E. Chesley Allen (1916) writes:
"A number of pheasants, fifty or more, have been liberated here during the past five years and are said to be multiplying rapidly. The mating call of the male is heard as early as 26 March and is becoming one of the spring sounds of the woods, while reports of young broods come in from all over the western part of the county at least."Although they may have done well at first, their numbers gradually diminished, for by 1922 they were considered a rarity there. In 1924 a further effort was made by A.G. Bremner, who liberated 50 young birds on 7 September near his home in Clementsvale, Annapolis County. A report received from him in the spring of 1926 indicated that he had met with success, but in subsequent years nothing further was heard of pheasants in that neighbourhood. Finally, in 1935, the Kings County Fish and Game Association procured 1,000 eggs. These were allotted to certain interested farmers in the district who, in a cooperative spirit, agreed to place them under domestic setting hens. This outlay netted the association about 85 birds, which were subsequently released in Kings County under favourable conditions.
During the following decade they increased substantially and an open season for hunting them was granted in 1943 (25-31 October, three cocks only). They continued to prosper, finally reaching a peak about 1953. From then on, however, their numbers declined sharply. Whether the decline was the result of excessive hunting pressure or other factors less obvious is not known. A short open season has continued nevertheless, and in order to help the species maintain its numbers, additional pen-raised birds have been released from time to time in widely separated districts. After several easy winters, numbers in Kings County had again built up by the late 1970s; 632 were noted on the Wolfville Christmas Bird Count in 1980. However, the bird continues to be scarce in most other parts of the province where it occurs.
Description Adult male: Length: 90cm. Strikingly coloured, with a long, narrow, gracefully pointed tail 30-45 cm long. The back is marked in a beautiful complicated pattern, with deep maroon, cream, ochre, black and metallic emerald-green. Breast is a solid, rich copper-bronze with violet reflections, each feather tipped with black; abdomen black; rich ochre on flanks; head and neck, except crown, brilliant steely black with a more or less complete white collar (sometimes lacking entirely) around neck. Face is largely bare red skin; crown is metallic green-ochre with narrow, white superciliary line. Short, steely black ear tufts. Adult female: Entirely unlike the male; her tail is considerably shorter and her plumage is variegated browns and grays with underparts pale fawn.
Breeding Nest: On the ground, composed of dry grass and usually well concealed by vegetation, often placed in the open or along marginal growth. Eggs: 12-20 or more, greenish buff and unmarked. There are indications that, at times, more than one hen will lay in a single nest. Only one brood is raised, but if the first nest is lost another attempt will be made. The males are highly polygamous and the females alone care for the brood.
Range Mongolia and eastern China. Introduced and widely established in various parts of the world.
Remarks One of the greatest hazards to pheasants is the mowing-machine, for a female very frequently chooses a hayfield as her nest site. Evidence points to the loss of a high percentage of these nests and not infrequently mothers are killed or seriously maimed.
The pheasant's food is highly diversified. During the season of plenty its diet consists mainly of grain, weed seeds, fruits and insects. The crop of one I examined on 26 November 1968 was completely filled with the blue-gray fruit of the bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica). At other times of year, when the snow lies deep and the cold is severe for protracted periods, near-starvation will drive them to extremes. For instance, a few years ago at Lower Wolfville a farmer had disposed of 40-50 crow carcasses late in November by tossing them under some heavy, low-growing spruce boughs that flanked a hillside bordering his orchard. During the ensuing winter months he frequently flushed pheasants from under these spruces as he happened to be passing. He naturally assumed they had gathered there for shelter. It was not until the following spring that the truth was revealed, whereupon I was invited to see at first hand his macabre discovery crow skeletons all over the place, picked clean to the bone, and pheasant droppings numerous enough to suggest a well-used hen yard.
Of the many and varied locales in Nova Scotia where pheasants have been released in the hope that the species might become established, perhaps the most inappropriate is Sable Island, that treeless, windswept strip of sand which lies in the Atlantic about 160 km from the mainland. A number were liberated there in the summer of 1961 but remained scarce until 1964, when they began to increase with winter feeding. Numbers of nests and broods were seen in subsequent years, but they all died in winter 1970-71 with the cessation of chicken-rearing and the associated incidental food supply for the pheasants.
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