- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
An introduced species, now a regular, permanent resident; the Ring-necked Pheasant was common during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Widely distributed across the United States and portions of southern Canada, from Nova Scotia to California, primarily in open agricultural regions and grasslands. Highest densities are in the Great Basin from Kansas to North Dakota (Figure 1).
Game species that is hunted and managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Grains, fruit, seeds, and arthropods are consumed on the ground.
On the ground, usually in tall vegetation in a natural depression; a rare nest parasite on grouse or ground-nesting waterfowl.
Roberts (1932) detailed the introduction of this species in Minnesota. The first documented attempts began in 1905 at the St. Paul Fish Hatchery. There may have been attempts before that time, but he could not locate any records. Additional introductions were made from 1909 to 1914. Roberts summarized the status of these introductions with a statement by Mr. Rider, the “executive agent” of the Minnesota State Game and Fish Commission, who said, “We regret to state that the propagation of Chinese Pheasants has not proven a success in this state.”
The pursuit to introduce pheasants to Minnesota continued from 1915 to 1928, when 25,000 pheasants and 60,000 eggs were distributed to farmers and others throughout the state by the State Game Farm. The farm was originally located near Lake Minnetonka and was moved to Mound in 1920. The farm was discontinued and reestablished near Madelia, Watonwan County, in 1928 (Roberts 1932).
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (2017a) reported that the Ring-necked Pheasant was first successfully imported from China to the United States in 1881 and the first successful release in Minnesota was in 1916. Roberts (1932) stated that from about 1920, it “rapidly expanded in numbers in the southern, more open, and more thickly settled parts of the state.” Pheasants did not make their appearance in the wooded valleys of the southeastern corner of the state until about 1925, but they rapidly expanded throughout the southern portion of the state. Minnesota also benefited from an expanding population in South Dakota, where they “had multiplied enormously.” Roberts noted that in the spring of 1930 “it was possible to see 150 to 200 birds by the roadside in a day’s drive” near Windom in Cottonwood County.
As of 1932, Roberts said that “pheasants have been liberated in probably every county in the state” and “are present in small numbers here and there as far north as the Canadian boundary, but their continued existence in the northern counties will probably depend upon frequent restocking.” The first Minnesota hunting season was in 1924. In his 1936 revision of his treatise on Minnesota birds, Roberts stressed that the pheasant had “continued to increase greatly in the southern part of the state, and is apparently becoming well established and fairly numerous in the northern counties.” He reported that it was increasing in Roseau County and wintering and nesting in the vicinity of Virginia, St. Louis County.
Roberts (1932, 1936) did not document many confirmed nests, but included 2 nests with eggs at Lake Minnetonka and many in Minneapolis, all primarily in the 1920s. Given the rapid population increase and widespread distribution of the Ring-necked Pheasant in the state, the pheasant was likely successfully nesting in many areas of the state.
Green and Janssen (1975) reported the distribution of the species as southern and central in open-country regions of the state as far north as Polk County in the northwest, and southern Aitkin, Carlton, Crow Wing, and Hubbard Counties. They included a map documenting confirmed nesting from 65 counties. The northern limits of confirmed nests included Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Norman, Otter Tail, Todd, Morrison, and Pine Counties, and Duluth, St. Louis County, where there was 1 confirmed nest.
By 1987, Janssen reported a distribution throughout most of the state, except in the northeast (though regular in Duluth), the north-central region, where it is absent, and the northwest, where it is rare. He stated it was most numerous in the Twin Cities area and north to the Mille Lacs lake area. Janssen documented nesting in 31 counties since 1970 with a northern limit of Mille Lacs, Morrison, and Todd Counties. In 1998, Hertzel and Janssen expanded confirmed nesting since 1970 to 66 counties, including all counties in southern Minnesota and most in central Minnesota. The northern limits included Becker and Norman Counties in the northwest, Crow Wing in the north-central region, and St. Louis County in the northeast.
The Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS), which began in the late 1980s, recorded 813 breeding season locations during its county surveys (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2017b). The MBS’s records also included virtually all counties in the southern and central regions of the state as far north as Morrison County and northwest to Marshall County. They reported 1 location in northwestern Itasca County, but no locations northeast from Aitkin and Pine Counties.
The participants in the MNBBA included 2,977 records for the Ring-necked Pheasant, which were distributed as far north as Kittson, Roseau, Lake of the Woods, Koochiching, and southeastern St. Louis Counties (Figure 2). The species was recorded in 32.1% (1,534/4,772) of all surveyed blocks, and 45.4% (1,062/2,337) of priority blocks (Figure 3; Table 1). Nesting was confirmed in 200 blocks and in 59 counties, including as far north as Aitkin, Polk, and Wadena Counties.
The breeding distribution of the species in the state was predominantly in the central and southern counties of Minnesota, where confirmed or probable nesting was reported from all counties south of a line from Aitkin and Pine Counties to Clay County, excluding Becker and Cass Counties. All breeding evidence in the northern counties was reported as possible nesting, which is defined as “species encountered in suitable nesting habitat within safe dates.” The code for possible nesting is used when the species is heard singing or calling or is visually observed. It records the possibility of nesting activity and a judgment that suitable habitat for the species to nest is also present.
Overall the breeding distribution of the Ring-necked Pheasant has not changed substantially since its initial expansion occurred in the 1920s and 1930s (Roberts 1932, 1936). The species’ stronghold has been southern Minnesota, northeast to Pine County, to Crow Wing County in the central region, and northwest to Polk County. Scattered breeding records and detections have been reported sporadically in many northern regions of the state, but most or many could be birds released from game farms or by individuals.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.