Pheasants Calling: One Box’s One Bird and Family

BROKEN BOW – Hunters from across the state and beyond are flocking this weekend to Broken Bow for the annual One Box Hunt, in pursuit of flushing out the source of one particular sound: the pheasant.

The most commonly seen and heard pheasant in Nebraska and the Midwest is the ring-necked pheasant, often painted hanging in the jowls of some obedient retriever or hung by the spurs on a mahogany wall alongside a Winchester, a bowl of shucked flint corn, and the like in countless still lifes.

Hunters, outdoorsmen, and artists since the dawn of the United States have been drawn to it; on a continent of fauna generally colored in tones ranging from “dry dirt” to “wet earth,” the ring-neck shimmers of the exotic, like finding a perfect Fuji apple in a burlap sack.

It has every right to catch the eye: it is one of two Nebraska gamebird species not native to North America, along with the partridge. Unlike the partridge, however, the ring-neck is an Asian bird, and one of the few successfully introduced into the wild throughout the United States, with a history as multicolored and enchanting as its feathers.

Some records indicate that the first pheasant was brought in captivity to the eastern United States by English governors of New York and New Jersey in the form of the Blackneck pheasant as early as 1773, though these were not nearly as hardy as the pheasants raised and hunted today, and soon died out.

Another source cites the first release of common pheasants into the wild in 1881 by Oregonian Owen Nickerson Denny, who had 60 shipped overseas to neighboring Washington. Having lost a majority of his flock not to the trans-Pacific journey, but rather to the poor roads between the two states, Denny is said to have released the handful of remaining pheasants into the wild along the banks of the Columbia River.

Still another story says that the Midwest gained its first natural pheasant population completely by accident. Sometime around 1900, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, a severe windstorm destroyed the captive pheasant pens of Iowa game breeder William Benton of Cedar Falls, which released about 2,000 pheasants into the wild. The birds then spread north and west, the populations of which still continue to flourish throughout the Central U.S.

Even more hypnotic are the calls and colors of its near-50 cousins abroad; each is unique in its colors, names, and calls. For example, the Himalayas’ Cheer pheasant, mottled with earth tones and the giveaway long tail and cowlick, and mask, almost yips like a small dog.

Mrs. Hume’s pheasant, a blue, brown, and white striped iteration of the bird, makes its home partially in the forests of northern Thailand and southeastern China, and wails like an upset child.

India’s Blood pheasant, named for its splotches of deep red feathers around its eyes and breast, whirs its call, almost as if imitating a firework.

KCNI/KBBN wishes all hunters a safe hunt this One Box weekend by keeping their eyes and ears open.