[Tweeters] Pheasant question and comment

Gary Bletsch garybletsch at yahoo.com
Fri Apr 5 15:16:03 PDT 2019

Dear Tweeters,
Yesterday I saw a Ring-necked Pheasant in Lewis County. I was about to enter the sighting on eBird, but I don't know if the species is really established there.
Short version of question: are they countable in Lewis County?
Long version is more of a comment than a question...
On eBird, one can search for photos or other records of a species using certain criteria. I searched for records of immature or juvenile pheasants in Lewis County, to no avail. Then I searched for the entire state of Washington; there are just three photos of juvenile or immature pheasants for the whole state (two photos in Okanogan County and one in Yakima). None of those were what I'd call chicks.
I seem to recall seeing a brood of pheasants somewhere in Eastern Washington, but I have nothing in my field notes to back up that long-ago memory. I did record seeing two birds that I thought were a pair once, in Grant County, but that is it...one suggestion of possible breeding, out of my 122 lifetime records of the species in this state.
The eBird map of Ring-necked Pheasant distribution in Washington shows them occurring across wide swaths of the state. Meanwhile, the map on page 135 in the breeding bird atlas (Breeding Birds of Washington State by Smith, Mattocks & Cassidy) suggests a somewhat smaller range, lacking many of the peripheral sightings shown on the eBird maps. Most of the shaded "core zones" on the atlas map lack any data for breeding records--the shading just shows habitat modelling. 
The atlas came out in 1997, so there might be new information available. Even so, it is worth noting that the atlas shows concentrated areas of confirmed breeding records in just six areas: Port Angeles-Sequim; scattered Puget Sound sites in King, Pierce, Mason, and Jefferson Counties; around Yakima; around the south end of Potholes Reservoir; northern Spokane County; and southern Walla Walla County. 
For Lewis County, the atlas shows one record of probable breeding evidence, plus seven "possibles." The "possibles" were birds "in suitable breeding habitat during nesting season" or "singing male present in suitable habitat." 
The status of this species in Washington has had me scratching my head for years. I cannot think of any other introduced bird species that is counted by so many birders in so many places where there is so little evidence for a self-sustaining population.
Closer to my own birding patch, Skagit County, it amazes me that birders count pheasants at the Game Range (Wiley Slough). The birds are housed in a pen there, until it is time to release them for the hunt. They often continue to stay right next to the pen. The situation on the Samish Flats is the same--released birds.
The atlas shows nothing beyond five records of "possible breeding evidence" in Skagit County. If I remember correctly, some of those five were my own observations, in places where I later learned that pheasants were being bred and released. 
My local birding friends and I have seen no evidence for breeding since then. I have never seen a juvenile Ring-necked Pheasant in the county. By contrast, I have seen baby Ruffed Grouse, baby Sooty Grouse, baby California Quail, baby White-tailed Ptarmigan, and even baby Spruce Grouse in Skagit County! 
Why no baby pheasants?
The ABA has a web page on "Criteria for Determining Establishment of Exotics. Here is a link.
The document lists eight criteria for an exotic species to be countable by ABA rules. For Skagit County, and almost certainly several other Washington counties as well, the Ring-necked Pheasant fails on at least four of those criteria, loosely quoted here. Those would be criterion #4 (large enough population to survive routine mortality); #5 (sufficient offspring being produced);  #7 (not directly dependent on humans); and #8 (published record that the first seven criteria have been met).
These criteria, above all #5, stop me in my tracks, every time I start thinking about adding the Ring-necked Pheasant to my Skagit list. This goes for several other species that I have observed in the wild in Skagit County as well: Greylag Goose, Muscovy Duck, Chukar, Bobwhite, Wild Turkey, Helmeted Guinea Fowl, and Red Jungle Fowl. Eight species, down the drain!
My apologies if this all sounds like pettifoggery.
I'd still love to find out if they're countable in Lewis County!
Yours truly,
Gary Bletsch

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