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Common Pheasant

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Common Pheasant

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Common Pheasant
Conservation status Least concern
female (left) & male (right)
 
female (left) & male (right)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
 
Phylum: Chordata
 
Class: Aves
 
Order: Galliformes
 
Family: Phasianidae
 
Genus: Phasianus
 
Species: P. colchicus
 
Binomial name
Phasianus colchicus
Linnaeus, 1758

The Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is a gamebird in the pheasant family Phasianidae of the order Galliformes, gallinaceous birds.

The adult pheasant is 50-90 cm in length with a long tail, often accounting for half the total length. The male (cock or rooster) has barred bright brown plumage and green, purple and white markings, often including a white ring around the neck, and the head is green with distinctive red patches. This bird is also called the Common or English Pheasant, or just Pheasant. The males are polygamous, mating with more than one female; they are often accompanied by a harem of several females.

The nominate race P. c. colchicus lacks a white neck ring. This is however shown by the race Ring-necked Pheasant, P. c. torquatus which after several failed attempts was successfully introduced to the United States in 1881.

The female (hen) is much less showy, with a duller mottled brown plumage all over, similar to that of the partridge. The birds are found on wooded land and scrub. They feed on the ground on grain, leaves and invertebrates, but roost in trees at night. They nest on the ground, producing a clutch of around ten eggs over a two-three week period in April to June. The incubation period is about 23-26 days. The chicks stay near the hen for several weeks after hatching but grow quickly, resembling adults by only 15 weeks of age.

While pheasants are able short-distance fliers, they prefer to run: but if startled they can suddenly burst upwards at great speed, with a distinctive "whirring" wing sound. Their flight speed is only 27 to 38 mph when cruising but when chased they can fly up to 60 mph.

They are native to Asia but have been widely introduced elsewhere, where they are bred to be hunted and are shot in great numbers. The doggerel "up flies a guinea, bang goes sixpence and down comes half-a-crown" reflects that they are often shot for sport rather than as food. If eaten the meat is somewhat tough and dry, so the carcasses were often hung for a time to improve the meat by slight decomposition, as with most other game. Modern cookery generally uses moist roasting or farm-raised female birds.

Pheasant farming is a common practice, and is sometimes done intensively. Birds are supplied both to hunting preserves/estates and restaurants, with smaller numbers being available for home cooks. Pheasant farms have some 10 million birds in the U.S. and 35 million in the United Kingdom. The Common Pheasant is also one of the prime target of small game poachers. The Roald Dahl novel "Danny the Champion of the World" dealt with a poacher (and his son) who lived in the United Kingdom and illegally hunted common pheasants.

The bird was brought to Britain around the 10th century but became extinct in the early 17th century; it was reintroduced in the 1830s and is now widespread. Repeated reintroduction has made the pheasant a very variable species in regard to size and plumage. Pheasants have probably been present in North America from the 18th century but became common in the wild in the late 1800s. They are most common in the Great Plains, where they are often seen in hay, grass wheat, and CRP fields. A preferred nesting site for them is along fence rows, wheat, and under old machinery.

The term pheasant can also be used for other gallinaceous birds such as the quail or partridge, and in North America it is occasionally used to refer to the ruffed grouse.

The Green Pheasant of Japan is very similar to Common Pheasant, but the males have greenish plumage. The Ring-Necked Pheasant is the state bird of South Dakota, the only US state bird that is not a species native to the United States.

References

  • BirdLife International (2004). Phasianus colchicus. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 09 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern

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