[Tweeters] pheasants in Skagit County

Gary Bletsch garybletsch at yahoo.com
Mon Dec 12 07:30:38 PST 2016

Dear Tweeters,
It always surprises me when I see the Ring-necked Pheasant on an eBird checklist for Skagit County. There have been many of those lately, mostly coming from the Game Range at Wylie Slough. At Wylie, hapless pheasants are kept in pens, visible on the right as one drives in.
This species does not appear to breed in the wild or semi-wild anywhere in Skagit County. As far as I can tell, virtually all Ring-necked Pheasants here are birds that have been released so that hunters can kill them. The remainder are birds that have escaped from pheasant fanciers. All of the sightings that I have had of this species in Skagit County, going back to 1989, have been birds at or near release sites, or birds near farms where they were raised by pheasant fanciers. The latter include birds near Lyman, where the late Mr. Ken Byerly raised them until about fifteen years ago, and Sedro-Woolley, where gallinaceous birds were raised by a man who lived on the east edge of town.
I have never seen a brood of pheasants in the wild in Skagit County. I don't know of anyone who has. If we start seeing them, and they persist for a decade or so, we might consider the population viable. Until then, it seems reasonable to leave these birds off the eBird checklists.
The Smith, Mattocks, and Cassidy breeding bird atlas came out in 1997; it does show a tiny handful of open circles from Skagit, but those were all records of "possible breeding evidence." That is, someone saw a Ring-necked Pheasant in the breeding season. That just means a bird eluded the hunters for a few extra months. The book also shows a shaded area of appropriate habitat, but as far as I know, the birds never established a viable population--at least, not one that was capable of surviving hunting season after hunting season. Survivors of a hunting season would be supplanted with additional releases the following year, making for the appearance of a continuing wild population. The book shows that there was breeding in coastal Whatcom County, but that area is separated from Skagit by a long stretch of dense coastal forest along Chuckanut.

Perhaps years ago, when Bobwhites were also released here, there might have been some self-supporting populations of pheasants in Skagit County, but that is all history now. In my opinion, a birder in Skagit might as well count chickens, Muscovy Ducks, Toulouse geese, guinea fowl, and escaped psitticines and canaries. Those birds are as much a part of our wild avifauna as is the pheasant.

Yours truly,
Gary Bletsch

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