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Upland game species

Nebraska's upland game species, including pheasant, quail, prairie grouse and partridge, offer a mixed bag of opportunities statewide.

Side view of a pheasant among prairie grasses.

Ring-necked pheasant

The ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is undoubtedly Nebraska’s most popular upland game bird. Pheasants can be identified by their long tail feathers and unique coloration. The male (rooster) is more brightly colored than the brown/tan-colored female (hen) and sports a green neck ringed in white. Pheasants were originally introduced to North America from Asia, and the first Nebraska hunting season was held in 1927.

Pheasants currently have a statewide distribution, but can be found in highest abundance on open landscapes that include ample grass cover and a strong presence of small grain crops. The best hunting opportunities are typically found in Southwest Nebraska and portions of the Panhandle. Other good opportunities, however, can be found where adequate habitat exists on the landscape.

A northern bobwhite quail sits in the snow.

Northern bobwhite quail

The northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) is second to the pheasant in popularity among Nebraska upland hunters. A small, plump, and mostly brown-colored bird; males have distinct black and white markings on the face while females display a duller yellow-brown color on the face. The distinctive “bob-bob-white” call of the male can be heard along country roads from early spring into summer.

Bobwhites are native to Nebraska and primarily distributed throughout the eastern and southern portions of the state, with core populations in southeast and south-central Nebraska. Harsh winters serve as a key regulatory factor for bobwhites in Nebraska, and in years following milder winters populations tend to expand north and west into other regions of the state where suitable habitat exists.

A male greater prairie chicken stands on a lek during mating season.

Greater prairie-chicken

The greater prairie-chicken is one of Nebraska’s two species of prairie grouse. Greater prairie-chickens have rounded tails and dark “barring” or horizontal lines on their plumage. Every spring, males conduct unique courtship dances. During breeding, male prairie chickens inflate bright yellow air sacs and raise their long pinnae feathers. Breeding grounds are called “leks” and birds often return to the same locations every year.

As a rule of thumb, these prairie birds tend to thrive where higher percentages of grassland and lower percentages of tree cover are present across a landscape. Prairie chickens are primarily found in the Sandhills and where suitable habitat exists in southwest and south-central Nebraska, as well as in certain portions of eastern Nebraska.

A male sharp-tailed grouse on a lek during mating season.

Sharp-tailed grouse

The sharp-tailed grouse is one of two native prairie grouse species found in Nebraska. They can be identified by tail feathers that come to point and dark “chevrons” or v-shaped markings on their plumage. During spring courtship dances, the males display their violet-colored air sacs. Each year, the birds return to breeding grounds are called “leks.”

As a rule of thumb, these prairie birds tend to thrive where higher percentages of grassland and lower percentages of tree cover are present across a landscape. Sharp-tailed grouse range primarily in the north-central Nebraska Sandhills, but can also be found to the west throughout much of the Panhandle.

A gray partridge hunkers down in the snow-covered plains.


The Hungarian or gray partridge (Perdix perdix) is an introduced game bird native to Eurasia. It is uncommon in Nebraska, being at the southern extent of the species’ introduced range in North America.

The chukar partridge (Alectoris chukar) does not have an established wild population in Nebraska, but is commonly raised in captivity and released by Controlled Shooting Areas and Captive Wildlife Permittees for hunting purposes. Escapees can often be found in suitable habitat around such areas.

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