Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ring-necked Pheasant strutting his stuff

I recently wrote about thirteen-lined ground squirrels, HERE. The place were I observed those furry little tunnel-dwelling prairie dogs is a massive Conservation Reserve Program grassland, smack in the middle of the former Pickaway Plains prairie. This site, which sprawls over 1,000+ acres, is just south of Circleville, the county seat of Pickaway County and home of the world famous Circleville Pumpkin Show.

It isn't just ground squirrels that occupy these grassland - there are more Ring-necked Pheasants than you can shake a stick at! I once counted about 55 of them in the same field. I know, I know, this is an introduced bird of Asian origins, and it doesn't really belong here. Doesn't change the fact that pheasants are very cool, and at least in modern times, they've probably done much more good than harm.

This testosterone-filled rooster was really strutting his stuff, and didn't much mind when I stopped my car nearby to make some photos.This is a darn good-looking bird; impressive by any standard.

The cock pheasant's display is a rather sensational affair. Seconds after I made the first image, he launched into his girl-getting routine. The bird sort of rises up on its legs, puffs its chest out, and lets loose with a mighty flapping of the wings. The resultant loud drumming is an explosive flurry of sound reminiscent of a flapping tarpaulin in a hurricane. It carries a long ways.

Here he is nearly done, his wings slowed to a mild sputter. The rooster, of course, is scanning the horizon to see if any hens are responding.

The display done, he is probably saying something to the effect of "alright, you little feathered fillies, bask in my presence, get a ticket, and form a line!"

And if the stud is impressive enough, a hen will indeed come calling.

Although Ring-necked Pheasants were first released in Ohio in 1896, they didn't really take until the 1920's, and reached a peak around 1940 when an estimated 5 million birds roamed our landscape. Some authorities believe that the enormous pheasant population may have been a contributing factor in the demise of the Greater Prairie-Chicken, which once was common in Ohio's largest prairie regions.

Say what you will about pheasants, a lot of sportsmen love them and in 1982 a group known as Pheasants Forever formed. In the intervening 30 years, PF has grown ever more sophisticated ecologically, and although the perpetuation of Ring-necked Pheasants remains a core mission, their work fosters habitat for a great many species of native flora and fauna.

The grasslands where I made these photos is not a Pheasants Forever project, but they've helped create many similar habitats throughout Ohio. PF and CRP grasslands don't just support pheasants. Living among the prairie plants are birds such as Grasshopper and Henslow's Sparrows, Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls, Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks, Sedge Wrens and Dickcissels, and more.

So, in a way we can thank the fabulous Ring-necked Pheasant for spawning restoration of Ohio's hard hit prairie and grassland ecosystems and all that come with such places.



Katy said...

Hi Jim,

I've just started following your blog, and wanted to tell you how much I'm enjoying it! Thanks for the entertaining accounts and great pictures. Hope you have a terrific spring.

Katy Greenwald

Jim McCormac said...

Thank you, Katy - I'm glad you enjoy the blog!

jaredmizanin said...

Another enjoyable post. Growing up, I always wanted to see a pheasant, and I'll never forget how insanely excited I was to find my first in a farm field in Medina Co. A very beautiful specimen you found, Jim. And 55 in a field??? I'd love to find them in such numbers! Among the few introduced animals that I love.

Jim McCormac said...

And I'd love to see a Common Ground-Dove in Ohio, Jared! You will always be remembered for that great find!

jaredmizanin said...

:) Hard to believe that was thirteen years ago! And even harder to believe my name has become synonymous with "Common Ground-Dove" in Ohio ornithology!