Anyone for Pheasant Photography?

by David Lilly
April 24, 2011


Ring-Necked Pheasant by David Lilly ©

Ring-Necked Pheasant photographed in Fish Creek Park, Calgary, AB with 500 mm F4 lens

Not all birds in Alberta are native to Alberta. As a matter of fact some birds are not native to Canada. For example, the House Sparrow, and the European Starling were introduced to North America in the late 1800’s from Europe. Both birds have spread across the continent and are now common everyday birds here in Alberta. Another bird introduced to Alberta in 1908 from Eurasia and has thrived against some stacked odds was the Ring-Necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus - Family Phasianidae). In Alberta the population is supported by breeding and releasing to support the pheasant hunting. Some declines acrose Canada have been detected due to habitat loss.

Ring-necked Pheasant by David Lilly ©

Most people have not see the Ring-Necked Pheasant. If you are interested in observing this bird, mid April, early May, is a good time. In early spring the Males start to gather a number of females and are very vocal, the ka-squawk is unmistakeable. Ring-Necked Pheasants practice what is called "harem-defense polygyny" where one male keeps other males away from a small group of females during the breeding season.Females lay six to 15 eggs with an incubation period of between 22 – 25 days. Chicks fledge in about 12 – 14 days.

Ring-necked pheasant in flight by David Lilly ©

Across the native range, about 34 races of the species are recognized. The Green Pheasant race is sometimes considered a different species. Multiple introductions of different races have been made in North America.

In the Calgary city limits the best opportunities to observe the Ring-Necked Pheasant is at Hull Woods or around the boat launch area in Fish Creek Park. They can also be observed in the surrounding farmland.

Ring-necked Pheasant by David Lilly ©

At this time of the year the Ring-Necked Pheasant is remarkably beautiful bird with amazing colours. The males are spectacular at this time of the year.

Observing the Ring-Necked Pheasant can be a lot easier then photographing the bird. From my obsevations and photographic attemps over the past couple of years I have learned a few tricks for good photographs:

  • Don’t try to follow the bird, stay back and use a long telephoto lens. Ring-necked Pheasant in grass by David Lilly ©
    For the photographs below I used a Nikon 300 F4 – Aps focal length 450mm equivelant.

  • As per most bird photography try to keep the sun to your back.

  • Focus on the eye of the bird.

  • If you are are at your minumum focusing distance as I was for some of the photographs in this article, use an f-stop of at least F8 for the best depth of field.

  • If you are photographing in the sunlight  dial in a -1 Exposure evaluation to ensure you don’t over expose the hightlights, fine tuning can be done in the workflow.

  • When observing the bird look for poses out of the normal.

Finally, there is no secret to finding or photographing the Ring-Necked Pheasant. It is matter of going to locations where there is the best possible chance to see and photograph this bird. As mentioned earlier now is the best time of the year, so get out there – good photographing.

Ring-necked Pheasant by David Lilly ©


David LiIlly is a professional nature photographer living and working in Calgary, AB he also teaches photo workshops. His photos have been published in PhotoLife, Calgary's Natural Parks, Alberta Nature Magazine and Fine Scale Military Modeller. Dave shoots with Nikon equipment.

David Lilly
Web site:
Phone: 403 703-6753 (Cell)

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