CuriosiD: What’s Up With All These Pheasants?

In this episode of CuriosiD, listener Jenni Sheridan Moss asks…

How have pheasants survived and thrived in the urban setting of Detroit, and have they always been here?

Wikimedia Commons

The Short Answer

Pheasants have been around in Detroit since the early 1900s. Today, they find food and nest safely in the tall grasses of the many vacant lots throughout the city. The increase in these habitats and a lack of real predators make Detroit a surprisingly pleasant home for the wild game birds.


Jenni Sheridan Moss

A male pheasants struts comfortably in front of listener Jenni’s car.

Where They’re From

H. Jones

Most of the pheasants we see in Detroit are called Chinese ring-necked pheasants. As the name implies, they came to the US from China.

According to Al Stewart, Upland Game Bird Specialist with Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), pheasants were brought to the state through Holland, Mich. in 1895. By the early 1900s they made their way to small family farms in the southern third of Michigan, where they thrived.

They were such a beautiful bird,” says Stewart. “They were very good to eat. They thrived in the type of habitat that was being created in those days - think lots of horses, lots of oats, lots of grass and hay.”


Shelby Jouppi

Prime pheasant territory where we began our hunt.

The Urban Eden

In the early 1900s, pheasants frequented the waterfront, small farms and railroad tracks throughout the city. There were places to hide in hedgerows and tree lines and ample food among the tall grasses and in the grains fed to livestock.

This kind of small farm land and grassland took up nearly one quarter of the state. It was a perfect habitat for pheasants. But, Al Stewart says around the 1960s the landscape began to change. The amount of farm land was nearly cut in half by 1990 causing a decrease in habitats for the birds.

In recent years, however, the landscape of Detroit has begun resembling those grasslands that once existed years ago.

Wildlife biologist Zach Cooley says that today, with the increase in vacant lots, pheasants can once again find shelter. In these new unkempt habitats, the birds hide overgrowth and can graze on the vegetation, insects and seeds the land naturally provides. 

And in Detroit it is pretty safe to be a pheasant. It’s illegal to hunt them, and even though the occasional raccoon or feral cat may strike, urban pheasants can easily replenish their population.

Their main predator is probably being hit by a car,” Cooley says.

TIP: If you want to track one down yourself - try along Second Avenue. Check out our map of Detroit pheasant sightings. >>



A video posted by WDET 101.9FM (@wdetdetroit) on


Shelby Jouppi

Jenni Sheridan Moss (WDET Listener) & Zach Cooley (DNR Wildlife Biologist) standing in a vacant lot north of New Center. This is where Jenni’s seen two pheasants. She drives by here every day on her way to work.

About the Asker

Jenni Sheridan Moss is a Latin and ancient history professor at Wayne State University.

A non-native of Michigan, Jenni says she thought she was hallucinating upon seeing her first Detroit pheasant.

Suddenly this bird walked out in front of my car, this bird with long tail feathers and I had no idea what it was - and I looked around to see if anyone else was noticing it because I really thought I was imagining it.”

Jenni says she’s lived in many different cities, but in her mind nothing compares to Detroit.

There are these areas that are almost like the countryside; people are farming and there are wild animals,” she says. “In other cities you don’t see that.”

Detroit Pheasant Sightings

Bill McGraw

Listener Bill McGraw caught an action shot of this pheasant on Hazel and Wabash on the west side.

Liz Scutchfield

WDET News’ Liz Scutchfield found this pheasant meandering up a front porch in Virginia Park.

Listeners submitted locations in the city where they’ve seen pheasants roaming about. Hover over the dots to read the stories of these sightings. Or, add your pheasant encounter to the map >> 



Image credit: Jenni Sheridan Moss

Filed Under: #nature #history

This post is a part of CuriosiD.

Meet CuriosiD - a series for the inquisitive. Our news team works with listeners like you to find answers to great questions about Detroit and the region.

Are you curious about the Detroit region or the people who live here? 

About the Author

Shelby Jouppi

Multimedia Producer

Wielding media powers for good, Shelby produces stories for The Beginning of the End and CuriosiD.   Follow @shelbyjouppi

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