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What is the State Bird of South Dakota? (And Why?)

The state of South Dakota is the 17th largest state in the United States, however, it is the 5th least populous state. South Dakota has many natural lakes, low mountains and great plains. The state animal for South Dakota is the Coyote, but what is the state bird?

The state of South Dakota chose the Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) as the state bird in 1943. The bird, whose full name is the Chinese ring-necked pheasant, didn’t naturally come from the US. Introduced to South Dakota in 1898, the state’s residents came to love it for its plumage and its tasty meat.

The state bird for South Dakota, the Ringed-necked Pheasant

The state bird for South Dakota, the Ringed-necked Pheasant

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Why is the Ring-necked Pheasant the state bird for South Dakota?

The residents of the state fell for the beauty of this bird. Its plumage stands out with its gold, orange, and yellow spotted with black. Its red and black face stands out in the fields of South Dakota. As soon as it got introduced to the state, its residents began hunting it and it became a gamefowl favorite. A native of Asia, the entire Midwest quickly loved the bird, a feeling that has continued.

This game species has fared better than any of the more than 40 species introduced in the US.

When did the Ring-necked Pheasant become the state bird for South Dakota?

The State of South Dakota legislature adopted the ring-necked Pheasant as state bird on February 13, 1943. South Dakota doesn’t share its state bird with any other state.

Ring-necked Pheasant male and female

Ring-necked Pheasant male and female

What does the state bird of South Dakota look like?

The ring-necked Pheasant grows rather large – typically nearly three feet in length. It has a pointed, long tail. The females of the species sport feathers of brown, sometimes the buffy brown which smaller songbirds of the south and east US turn, which the male has darker feathers and a white collar, also called a ring. The male also has a red patch around his eyes and an iridescent blue-green head.

These birds weigh a little less than your typical gamefowl. They only grow to a weight of between two to 2.6 pounds. They have a wingspan of about 22.1 to 33.9 inches.

Ring-necked Pheasant crowing

Ring-necked Pheasant crowing

How do these birds behave?

These birds choose an upland habitat. They prefer farm fields, brush, rangeland, hedgerows, and woodland edges. They nest from May to June annually.

Their nest consists of a shallow ground depression, about three inches deep, lined with weeds and grasses. Although the nest is on the ground, the bird places it in dense coverage.

While the male attracts the female with his loud crowing of “khaaaa-cack,” once she lays her eggs, a clutch of seven to 14 eggs, she incubates them alone. Many pheasant eggs do not hatch because they’re either destroyed by humans or predators.

A young Ring-necked Pheasant

A young Ring-necked Pheasant

As soon as they hatch, the young can leave the nest. They’re born ready to care for themselves, but they require about two weeks to learn to fly. They feed themselves while the female trains them in essential survival. These young often perish, and the baby birds in this species have a high mortality rate.

One of the flight manoeuvres that they learn is to abruptly launch themselves into the sky, making a noisy takeoff that can scare the predator. Despite this, they typically run from a dangerous situation. They can cover a short distance quickly, and you could consider them the 50-yard dash winner of the avian world.

The females of this species like to stay close to home, and they will typically nest less than half a mile from their wintering range. While they usually dislike areas of tall grasses, they come in handy when hiding a nest of eggs, so the female makes an exception during this critical time.

Ring-necked Pheasant males fighting

Ring-necked Pheasant males fighting

Do Ring-necked Pheasants form communities?

In fall and winter, ring-necked pheasants form segregated flocks, dividing along gender lines. The males form smaller groups. They remain in these flocks until spring.

The males, called cocks, form harems similar to those formed by chickens with a rooster. Each spring, he must defend his territory and his harem from rivals. This can lead to vicious battles. They typically aren’t fatal fights, but they may cause physical damage since the two males will bite one another’s necks, peak each other, claw one another, etc. If you’re a pheasant male, you smartly stay in your own territory and never leave it.

Although they prefer to live in fields and farmlands, they will live in woodlands and wetlands as long as there is undergrowth for them to use. Females prefer to nest in fields.

During spring and summer, they roost in trees or dense shrubs. They switch in fall to farm fields, weedy areas, and forested wetlands. Yes, the latter means swamps. Wear your bug spray with DEET in it when you want to spot this bird because many of the areas it loves provide a breeding ground for mosquitos.

During the early nesting season, they enjoy grass cover along the roadside, fence lines, wetlands, and ditches. When the vegetation grows taller, they switch their habitat again, typically to an area with hay, especially alfalfa.

A Ring-necked Pheasant feeding

A Ring-necked Pheasant feeding

What do Ring-necked Pheasants eat?

Ring-necked Pheasants eat an omnivorous diet. They forage on the ground and scratch the ground with their feet or their bill to uncover food. Their typical diet consists of berries, buds, acorns, grains, roots, seeds, insects, earthworms, snails, and larger prey. These pheasants will eat snakes, mice, and frogs.

They’re savvy hunters that become the hunted when humans show up for hunting season. If they live near a farm field, you will spot these birds munching seeds from the fields.

They will also dine on wild fruits, insects, roots, grasses, leaves, and roots. In spring, they prefer fresh greens and protein. The birds will eat grasshoppers during this time, as well as crickets, beetles, ants, and caterpillars.

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