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What Is South Dakota’s State Bird? How Was It Decided?

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ring-necked pheasant on the grass

South Dakota’s state bird is the Ring-Necked Pheasant. And crazy as this might sound, they settled on this particular species because it not only has beautiful plumage but because the meat is tasty as well. Yes, you read that right. This sort of sounds paradoxical, but its flavorful meat is one of the reasons why the bird is now a state symbol.  

Before we dive deeper into the “why” or “how” let’s first learn a thing or two about the origin of this bird.

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What’s The Ring-Necked Pheasant’s History?

From what we’ve gathered, Pheasants are natives of East Asia and China. These are birds of several genera, but the first species that we were introduced to was the Old English Blackneck Pheasant. That was back in 1773. Sadly though, they had a hard time adjusting to their new home and passed away before propagation.

Several years later, Owen Denny—the US consul General at the time—and his wife Gertrude, traveled to Shanghai and came back with a different member of the Pheasant family. It was the Ring-Necked species, and they were released in Oregon.

In total, they came back with 60 birds. Sadly though, not all of them survived. As per the records, they all survived the ocean voyage to Washington, as the weather elements were not too harsh. What killed a good number of them was the terrible road condition to Oregon! 

To be honest, we don’t know how many were alive and kicking by the time they got to Oregon. But what we know is this; the remaining few were all released near the Columbia River. They did survive, their population grew to an extent, and some of them ended up in South Dakota in 1898. Later on in the early 1900s, more Pheasants were imported and released across the country.

By the time the rest of the country was seeing the Pheasant for the very first time, South Dakota was already debating as to whether or not they should use it as its state symbol. And on the 13th day of February, in 1943, the legislature designated it as the official state bird.

Ring Necked Pheasants Close up
Image Credit: juhasuhonen1, Pixabay

What’s The Ideal Ring-Necked Pheasant Habitat?

The Ring-Necked Pheasant has a high preference for open habitats. We’re talking about grasslands, farmlands, etc. So you’ll never find them hiding in alpine forests or any dense rainforest.

Their ideal hangout spots must have bushes, marshes, or ditches that the bird can use as hideouts (from predators) or as cover during the winter season.  They don’t often migrate like other species to escape the cold.

These birds like to spend time near different water bodies but rarely swim. They also don’t have a problem interacting with humans, as long as they don’t feel threatened.

Construction of commercial premises and practices such as monoculture have been listed as reasons why the Ring-Necked Pheasants population is on the decline. The government is now working in tandem with other non-governmental organizations to find solutions on how their habitats can be saved through land conservation.

What Are The Ring-Necked Pheasant’s Breeding Rituals?

It’s the male’s responsibility to pick a suitable breeding ground. That’s not the work of the female, as she already knows her duty is to construct the nest. He has to pick a site before spring so that they can have enough time to scout the area. They both have to be sure that no predator is lurking around, ready to pounce.

By the way, you’ll never catch a Ring-Necked species, or a Pheasant of any kind, building a nest at the top of a tree or on high ground. It has to be on low-level ground, preferably next to a tree.

The breeding season usually kicks off in mid-March and ends in the first or second week of June. During that period, one of the males will always hang around to protect his partner and all the other females, while his peers go out to look for food.

On average, the female lays 10 to 12 eggs. They’ll hatch after 23 days and learn how to fly in 12. Their mother will stick around for 2 to 3 months, and then leave them to fend for themselves.

Ring Necked Pheasants flying
Image Credit: MabelAmber, Pixabay

Are Ring-Necked Pheasants Social?

Not all species that live in flocks are social, but these birds are. In preparation for winter, they’ll be seen flying in groups, searching for food. If they can’t find any, they’ll go back home, and try again when they completely run out of supply.

The Ring-Necked Pheasant’s diet primarily consists of berries, shoots, seeds, and grains. If its body requires more protein, it will hunt small invertebrates like earthworms, beetles, grasshoppers, and snails.

Are Pheasants Invasive?

On more than one occasion, we’ve spotted the Ring-Necked Pheasant harassing other species. They always maintain their distance when it comes to birds that are relatively larger than they are, but if it’s a gray partridge or prairie chicken, they’ll be bullied.

Ring-Necked Pheasant Hunting Tips

Hunting any Pheasant species in South Dakota is a challenge even for a veteran hunter. You have to employ different strategies and find a way to use the weather to your advantage.

Have a good bird dog

Flushing these birds is a lot easier if you have a dog. And the best breeds in the business are the pointers and the labs. They are good at sensing where the birds are hiding and tracking down the ones that have been shot.

Hunt near water

All birds are creatures of habit. They’ll always go where they feel most comfortable, and in the case of the Pheasant, it’s next to a water source. If there are no ponds or streams around, go where you’ve spotted irrigation equipment or livestock watering container. We bet you dollars to doughnuts that they’ll be there.

ring-necked pheasant near the water
Image Credit: barmanCZ, Pixabay


We’re sure you’ve heard of the old adage, “It takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.” Join private hunting clubs with your dog and train together. They are the best places to gain exposure and learn a few tricks that might come in handy.

Work with the right shot

Some hunters prefer working with the 16-gauge, while others swear by the 20-gauge. Don’t go for something that will injure the bird instead of killing it on the spot. The goal is to make it as painless as possible.


The best time to hunt a Ring-Necked Pheasant is early morning when they are actively foraging for food, in lighter grass covers. Also, try to get to the hunting grounds before the other hunters get there. A large crowd will force the birds to retreat to heavier covers and flushing them will be difficult.


South Dakota’s state bird is the Ring-Necked Pheasant, chosen because not only does it have beautiful plumage, but because the meat is so delicious too. Make sure to get acquainted with the hunting rules and regulations, if you’re not a South Dakota native. The rules are all written in a hunting and trapping handbook, and the Transport Security Administration will let you know what’s allowed and what’s not. You can visit the South Dakota Game website or office to get a license.

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Featured Image Credit: jstoner22, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.