Phāsianós, Greek for “bird of Phasis,” the pheasant was named after the Phasis river where the birds were numerous. This river flowed from Caucasus down to the land of Kolkhis and into the Black Sea. From this river, now the Rioni river, in modern-day Georgia, they’re believed to have spread westwards.
While they share the signature long, pointed tails, males are larger than females and highly decorated with bright plumage and facial adornments. The females have a duller display of mottled brown feathers. The pheasant is possibly the most widespread and ancient gamebird in the world, and is one of the world’s most hunted birds. Many people like to eat pheasants, but what do the pheasants like to eat?
What Foods Do Pheasants Eat?
Pheasants eat a diet that consists mainly of insects, grains, seeds, fruits, and leaves. They are omnivorous ground-feeders that will also occasionally eat small lizards, voles, and birds.
In the spring and summer months, as well as in autumn in warmer regions, pheasants often enjoy insects. They seek out grasshoppers, crickets, potato beetles, caterpillars of gypsy moths and browntail moths, tent caterpillars and cutworms. Pheasant chicks rely almost entirely on a diet of insects for the first five weeks after hatching. Acorns, pine seeds, and wild berries are foods they enjoy in the summer and autumn months.
In the colder part of the year, they will eat more roots, berries, grains, and seeds. Grains such as the waste corn, wheat, grain, sorghum, barley, oats, buckwheat, and sunflowers are eaten by pheasants in harvested crop fields. Seeds of legumes, ragweed, smartweed, crotons, and burdock are in old fields, field borders, and other natural areas.
Snail shells commonly comprise a valuable calcium component of the pheasant diet.
A Complete list of 12 Foods in the Pheasant Diet
Where Do Pheasants Find Food
Pheasants love areas of grassland near water and within or around small stands of trees. As generalists, they can occupy a wide range of habitats. However, they don’t do well in areas of dense rainforest, alpine forests, or very dry areas. These ground-dwellers prefer farmland and grassland areas of open cover and you can find them in areas with grass, ditches, hedges, marshes, and tree stands.
They roost in trees, tall shrubs and hedges or on the ground in weedy ditches, marshes and cattail swales. The dense vegetation of weed-grown fence corners, brush heaps, briar patches, and farmland woodlots provide areas perfect for roosting. These areas of dense vegetation are important near foraging sites as escape cover to quickly get away from the view of predators. Although they do roost in trees at times, these birds are most comfortable on the ground and that is where they do their foraging.
Open water is not a necessity for their habitat, but pheasants are usually found in areas where water is nearby. In drier climates, they obtain water from dew, insects, and succulent vegetation.
What To Feed Pheasants
If you’re raising pheasants, it’s common to feed them a diet of specialized game bird feed. They start out on pre-starter feed with 28% protein when they are below three weeks of age. From three to seven weeks they move to a starter feed of slightly lower 26% protein. From seven to 24 weeks they move on to a grower feed at 20% protein and from then on eat maintenance food at 14% protein content.
Game bird feed supplies all the nutrients they need, but if you can’t locate game bird-specific feed than turkey feed is the next best thing to feed pheasants. If temperatures are low for a long period of time, supplementing with some cracked corn can be beneficial. The sugars in the cracked corn metabolize quickly, giving the birds an energy boost.
Who Eats the Pheasant
Pheasants are a very popular game bird that are often hunted with the help of a dog, such as the setter. The setter’s a breed that will respond to the scent of the birds with a crouch called a “set” alerting of their presence.
Many state natural resources agencies have raised and released pheasants to satisfy the demand for hunting since the birds were introduced to North America in the late 1800’s. According to an article in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, New York raised and released 2,400,000 pheasants from 1920 to 1950 and the Pennsylvania Game Commision released over 7,916,000 between 1929 to 1998. Still, despite these efforts to satisfy hunting demand, pheasants have come close to extinction in some of their natural habitats due to excessive hunting.
Owls and foxes prey on young pheasants, who are especially vulnerable in the winter when the snow decreases the pheasants’ ability to hide. As ground-dwelling birds, pheasants appear as prey to birds like the red-tailed hawk, turkey vulture and the bald eagle. Coyotes are also a threat to pheasant populations. Skunks and raccoons enjoy feeding on their eggs, so are a significant threat during breeding times.
Summary of 12 Foods Pheasants Eat
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/JMrocek
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