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What Is the State Bird of South Dakota?

By B. Chisholm
Updated: May 17, 2024

The state bird of South Dakota is the ring-necked pheasant or Phasianus colchicus. Originally brought in from Asia as a game bird in the early 1900s, it was officially declared the state bird of South Dakota in 1943. It has distinctive coloring, with a white ring around the male bird's neck, giving it its name.

The ring-necked pheasant male is an extremely pretty bird, with a greenish sheen to their head feathers, bright red markings around their eyes, black, red and gold feathers on the body and a long tail. The female birds are plainer, with speckled brown feathers and a shorter tail, camouflaging them well. They are about the size of a chicken, with a similarly small head and elongated neck. The adult male pheasant has spurs on his legs which are used for fighting other males, mainly during breeding season.

Due to its delicious meat and its habitat being very much limited to the Midwest, the ring-necked pheasant is considered a delicacy both in South Dakota, and especially elsewhere, where it is more difficult to obtain. With its status of state bird of South Dakota, the ring-necked pheasant is featured flying above Mount Rushmore on the South Dakota state quarter issued in 2006.

The ring-necked pheasant’s habitat is mainly farmland and they feed on grasses, seeds and sometimes insects. During breeding season, one male often protects a number of female birds from any other male intrusion. They make their nests on the ground and lay between six and twelve uniformly brown- or olive-colored eggs. Normally only half of the babies survive, depending on weather conditions, the presence of predators such as foxes and hawks, and the availability of food.

Each US state has a number of state symbols, from state animals to birds, trees to flags, each one chosen carefully by the specific state. The state bird of South Dakota is joined by the state animal, the coyote, the state flower, the pasque and the state tree, the Black Hills Spruce. All of these symbols inspire state patriotism.

The numbers of the state bird of South Dakota are still high, though it seems that they may be declining, most probably due to the change in farming practices throughout the state. The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks has a plan in place to conserve and protect the habitat of the ring-necked pheasant, ensuring that the population of birds does not dwindle. They work hand-in-hand with the public and commercial hunting farms that are spread throughout South Dakota.

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