by Pat Jaquith
Ring-necked Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), native to China, were introduced to Montana prior to 1895. The male pheasants, flamboyantly-feathered birds with crazy-quilt plumage, are easily recognized and quite commonly seen near water, around feed lots, in hedgerows, and even in our backyards. The ground-nesting females have mottled brown colors that camouflage them as they incubate a dozen eggs at a time and tend one or two clutches of chicks per summer. Read on for more pictures of Pheasant activity and other non-native game birds we may see.
The cock above visited under our bird feeders frequently where he cleaned up seeds. Snow didn’t deter him as he scratched vigorously to uncover cracked corn and sunflower seeds.
Pheasants attempted to nest in a bunchgrass clearing nearby. Two cocks had a violent, noisy fight over what appeared to be a favorite spot near some Common Juniper. After about 20 minutes of attacking and retreating, one of the birds walked away while the victor continued to yelp and strut.
Female Pheasants are too fast and too shy for me to catch them often in my viewfinder. She is considerably smaller and much less colorful than the cock, but her long, rudder-like tail distinguishes her from other small game birds. Juveniles are similar to the females; camouflage makes them invisible to me and perhaps to predators, too.
I was out for a walk one spring day when a loud dispute between two species of birds alerted me to look for Yellow-headed Blackbirds and male Pheasants. Even if one is unfamiliar with those two vocalizations, you can’t ignore that auditory assault! In this picture, there are three Y-H Blackbirds in (noisy) pursuit of a lone Ring-necked pheasant over one of the potholes!
CHUKAR (CHUKAR PARTRIDGE)
According to the Montana Field Guide, the habitat of Chukars is “steep, rocky, semiarid country with an abundance of cheatgrass and brushy draws.” It is native to Asia, but has been extensively imported and has become feral in many areas. We are uncertain how or why the Chukars I photographed in the top picture happened to be in the West Valley. I include this photo I took of a Chukar on Antelope Island, Utah, for a look at habitat that they may prefer.
HUNGARIAN (GRAY) PARTRIDGE
Gray Partridge aka Hungarian Partridge, or simply ‘Huns’ are another Eurasian species that have been introduced widely into North America. Huns’ typical habitat is flat agricultural land. They eat insects, grains, and seeds as they forage in grassy areas. In winter, they drop into soft snow where they virtually disappear and pop up and ‘plow’ through the snow. They seem to always be in small groups, but never alone. Though the sexes are similar in size and appearance, the males have a brighter orange-red head and tail that is a real show-stopper (for me, at least!) when they fly and a large dark belly-patch.