Ring-necked Pheasants

Pheasant Life

Ring-necked pheasants dramatically decorate grasslands in Northern California. They are large birds, so from a distance, they seem to be wild turkeys. However, a closer look reveals a slender neck and long pointed tail, and in the male, a beautiful white necklace.

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Despite a chunky grass-bound appearance, the pheasants are able to take off dramatically at a steep angle by beating their short, round wings rapidly. My bird guide indicates that the take-off creates a loud whirring sound.

Female pheasants create nests made of grass often on the ground. A ditch surrounded by grasses is a favorite setting. The eggs, which are olive green in color, blend in well with brushy and grassy areas.

Pheasant Quest

Pheasants are not native to California and were instead introduced to the West from Asia in the 1800s. Where I live, in the suburban San Francisco Bay Area, I rarely see them. As our new neighborhood was being built, I saw a pheasant fly up out of a creek area. Since it was only my second pheasant sighting ever, I was surprised. Sadly, now that our neighborhood is finished, I have not seen any pheasants again. The pheasants below I photographed while participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a fun event held every year in February. The birds were hanging out in a business park in a somewhat rural area near Suisun, California. They really contrast with the drab buildings behind (no doubt full of cubicles). I can imagine workers looking out and imagining traveling to distant fog-bound valleys in China.

Pheasant Symbolism

Pheasants are a masculine "yang" symbol in China (yin represents feminine or receptive energy while yang represents active or masculine energy). The bright and showy colors of the male and his penchant for strutting around groups of female birds contribute to the yang mystique.

Following on from the yang symbolism, pheasants are one of the Twelve Imperial Symbols of Sovereignty, representing literary refinement, in China. This robe at the Met Museum apparently depicts a pheasant, and I spent a happy fifteen minutes looking for it in vain, much like my birding quests to find a pheasant in real life.

In addition to the robe, a Japanese screen depicts a pheasant as a seasonal bird. However, I have found conflicting information associating the pheasant with both winter and spring.

Moving quite far around the world, a house sign in Prague, the Czech Republic, depicts a pheasant. It reminds me of an era when houses did not have numbered signs but instead lovely symbols rested over each door. I wonder what the symbol for my own house should be.


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