by Patrick McShea
Remember pheasants? Who could forget a long-tailed, chicken-sized bird with a green head and bright copper body? It wasn’t even necessary to see the birds to know they were around. Every spring the two-syllable rooster-like crows of male ring-necks marked the passage of days in overgrown fields at the edge of many Pittsburgh neighborhoods, and those repeated territorial claims carried for hundreds of yards.
Pheasants, which are not native to North America, were introduced to the U.S. from Asia during the 1880s. In Pennsylvania, pheasant populations peaked in the early 1970s. Wildlife biologists explain the bird’s decline since then as connected to habitat loss:
“In some places fields and brushy hollows gradually became forests, while in others suitable habitat was rapidly lost to housing, retail, and industrial development. On many farms, where the conditions to appear ideal for the birds, changes in hay-mowing schedules and repeated use of herbicides and pesticides make for poor pheasant habitat.”
Patrick McShea works in the Education and Visitor Experience department of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences of working at the museum.