Wednesday 25 March 2020

Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

25 March 2020

You have seen what's going on in Sweden now let's head westwards across the "Pond" to my birding friend Peter Thoem in Ontario, Canada.  Peter lives in Burlington, south of Totonto, and I had the pleasure of his company when we were in Toronto for four days back in May 2018.  Emigrating in his early twenties from Brockenhurst in the New Forest, once we really gt to know each other, I having spent most of my formative years in Southampton having moved from Wales in the late forties, it seemed we had a few mutual friends and contacts.  These past five or more years I have enjoyed receiving regular emails from Peter by way of his personal blog, "My Bird of the day" and they always contain lots of interesting background information.  Below find a copy of his latest effort received this morning.

Ring-necked Pheasant

by Peter Thoem

Ring-necked or Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Turkey Point ON. March 24 2020I can readily bring to mind four European bird species introduced into North America: House Sparrow, European Starling, Rock Pigeon and Ring-necked Pheasant, there may be 1 or 2 more; the first three are bog-common. We’ve probably all heard about the 19th Century meddler who thought the common people of America would remain intellectually and morally impoverished unless they knew the birds of Shakespeare. So, the story goes, he imported and released European robins, chaffinches, bullfinches and nightingales (among others) into New York’s Central Park; they didn’t all survive, not by a long shot, and what we’re left with are the highly successful ones, starlings and sparrows. The pigeon probably got here as a domestic food source for early farmer settlers. 

But the Ring-necked Pheasant is a different story, it is originally a bird of Asia Asia and is probably one of the most meddled-with of all bird species. It has been widely introduced across the continent for hunting and is commonly raised in captivity until grown when it is released. Those that escape the barrage struggle to survive in our climate, it is not common in Ontario and perhaps never was, other than very locally and periodically. Like all birds, pheasants need the right landscape and habitat to thrive, they need scattered mixed open fields punctuated with woodland and scrub, dense winter cover is especially important.  As if hunting wasn’t challenge enough, today’s changes in agriculture, moving towards large monoculture practices, don’t help pheasants.

Well, today my wife and I took time away from Covid 19 and drove to a landscape of extensive marshes on Lake Erie’s north shore. March is when ducks and other waterfowl start heading north and I was keen to see what had blown in from the south. It was time well spent and for a while I wondered if we’d actually encountered every, reasonably possible, duck species in Ontario. But no, we hadn’t, we missed Wood Duck, and both Blue and Green-winged Teals, but we did enjoy long studies of glorious, breeding-plumaged Northern Pintails, Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers, American Wigeon, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Ducks, Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks and more.

Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis about to dive

As we were making our way home I was mulling over whether Ducks, in general, had been my collective Birds of the day, or was it the handful of Sandhill Crane, or maybe the Common Grackles in streams of hundreds who, having crossed the lake, were swarming north to find their summer place.  We were following a wooded lakeside road when Ruth exclaimed, “Pheasant!”  And there, at the roadside, a rather lovely, male Ring-necked Pheasant, My Bird of the Day.

There’s a little more to this, a bit of history. This is not the first time for a Pheasant in these posts.  Eight years ago (!) in a bizarre encounter I almost literally ran into a Golden Pheasant.  It still makes me shake my head in disbelief.  Read about it here.
Golden Pheasant Chrysolophus pictus
I trust that you have enjoyed reading Peter's report as much as I have and very many thanks to Peter for permitting me share his experience and photographs with you.  Hopefully, in these time of little birding activity in Spain, perhaps I can bring more active reports to readers from external destinations where birding is still possible.

Footnote re the Golden Pheasant
Is the Golden Pheasant now extinct as a wild-breeding species in Britain?  The following extracts were produced by “Bird Guides” just a month ago in February 2020:
There are still sporadic reports, mainly of individuals, in and around the Brecks at largely unconnected sites. Many of these presumably relate to released birds, probably in small numbers, on the many shooting estates in the area. A couple of Suffolk sites, south of Thetford, are perhaps the final places in Britain where self-sustaining (or formerly self-sustaining) populations of Golden Pheasant can be found. It of course remains possible that these birds are supplemented by releases. Females have been seen too, with reports as recently as 2019, but numbers of both sexes have tailed off, even though recent sightings have taken Golden Pheasant into the 2020s as a British bird.  Excluding isolated releases, any British self-sustaining population of Golden Pheasant could be as small as 20 or more individuals.

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