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Common pheasant

Common pheasant
Male ("cock") of hybrid stock in Poland
Note thin white neck-band due to a ring-necked subspecies' contribution to hybrid gene pool
Female ("hen") in England
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Subclass: Neornithes
Infraclass: Neognathae
Superorder: Galloanserae
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Subfamily: Phasianinae
Genus: Phasianus
Species: P. colchicus
Binomial name
Phasianus colchicus
Linnaeus, 1758

The common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is a bird in the pheasant family (Phasianidae). It is native to Asia and has been widely introduced elsewhere as a game bird. In parts of its range, namely in places where none of its relatives occur such as in Europe (where it is naturalized), it is simply known as the "pheasant". Ring-necked pheasant is both the name used for the species as a whole in North America and also the collective name for a number of subspecies and their intergrades which have white neck rings.

The word pheasant is derived from the ancient town of Georgia.

It is a well-known gamebird, among those of more than regional importance perhaps the most widespread and ancient one in the whole world. The common pheasant is one of the world's most hunted birds;[2] it has been introduced for that purpose to many regions, and is also common on game farms where it is commercially bred. Ring-necked pheasants in particular are commonly bred and were introduced to many parts of the world; the game farm stock, though no distinct breeds have been developed yet, can be considered semi-domesticated. The ring-necked pheasant is the state bird of South Dakota, one of only three U.S. state birds that is not a species native to the United States.

The green pheasant (P. versicolor) of Japan is sometimes considered a subspecies of the common pheasant. Though the species produce fertile hybrids wherever they coexist, this is simply a typical feature among fowl (Galloanseres), in which postzygotic isolating mechanisms are slight compared to most other birds. The species apparently have somewhat different ecological requirements and at least in its typical habitat, the green pheasant outcompetes the common pheasant. The introduction of the latter to Japan has therefore largely failed.


  • Description 1
  • Taxonomy and systematics 2
    • Subspecies 2.1
  • Ecology 3
    • As introduced species 3.1
  • As gamebirds 4
    • Pheasant hunting in North America 4.1
  • Footnotes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


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Flavistic hen
Phasianus colchicus egg at MHNT
Skeleton MHNT

There are many colour forms of the male common pheasant, ranging in colour from nearly white to almost black in some melanistic examples. These are due to captive breeding and hybridization between subspecies and with the green pheasant, reinforced by continual releases of stock from varying sources to the wild. For example, the "ring-necked pheasants" common in Europe, North America and Australia do not pertain to any specific taxon, they rather represent a stereotyped hybrid swarm.[3] Body weight can range from 0.5 to 3 kg (1.1 to 6.6 lb), with males averaging 1.2 kg (2.6 lb) and females averaging 0.9 kg (2.0 lb).[4][5]

The adult male common pheasant of the nominate subspecies Phasianus colchicus colchicus is 60–89 cm (24–35 in) in length with a long brown streaked black tail, accounting for almost 50 cm (20 in) of the total length. The body plumage is barred bright gold and brown plumage with green, purple and white markings. The head is bottle green with a small crest and distinctive red wattle. P. c. colchicus and some other races lack a white neck ring.

The female (hen) is much less showy, with a duller mottled brown plumage all over and measuring 50–63 cm (20–25 in) long including a tail of around 20 cm (7.9 in). Juvenile birds have the appearance of the female with a shorter tail until young males begin to grow characteristic bright feathers on the breast, head and back at about 10 weeks after hatching.

The green pheasant (P. versicolor) is very similar, and hybridization often makes the identity of individual birds difficult to determine. Green pheasant males on average have a shorter tail than the common pheasant and have darker plumage that is uniformly bottle-green on the breast and belly; they always lack a neck ring. Green pheasant females are darker, with many black dots on the breast and belly.

In addition, various color mutations are commonly encountered, mainly melanistic (black) and flavistic (isabelline or fawn) specimens. The former are rather common in some areas and are named Tenebrosus pheasant (P. colchicus var. tenebrosus).

Taxonomy and systematics

Hybrid male in Europe, intermediate between Mongolian ringneck and Caucasus group phenotype

This species was first scientifically described by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758 under its current scientific name. The common pheasant is distinct enough from any other species known to Linnaeus for a laconic [Phasianus] rufus, capîte caeruleo – "a red pheasant with blue head" – to serve as entirely sufficient description. Moreover, the bird had been extensively discussed before Linnaeus established binomial nomenclature. His sources are the Ornithologia of Ulisse Aldrovandi,[6] Giovanni Pietro Olina's Uccelliera,[7] John Ray's Synopsis methodica Avium & Piscium,[8] and A natural history of the birds by Eleazar Albin.[9] Therein—essentially the bulk of the ornithology textbooks of his day—the species is simply named "the pheasant" in the books' respective languages. Whereas in other species, such as the eastern meadowlark (Sturnella magna), Linnaeus felt it warranted to cite plumage details from his sources, in the common pheasant's case he simply referred to the reason of the bird's fame: principum mensis dicatur. The type locality is given simply as "Africa, Asia".[10]

However, the bird does not occur in Africa, except perhaps in Linnaeus' time in

  • Phasianus colchicusRing-necked Pheasant - - USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter
  • Ring-necked Pheasant Species Account – Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • Ring-necked Pheasant at
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Pheasant page
  • Ring-necked pheasant videos, photos, and sounds at the Internet Bird Collection
  • Ring-necked pheasant photo gallery at VIREO (Drexel University)
  • Phasianus colchicusInteractive range map of at IUCN Red List maps

External links


  1. ^
  2. ^ Robertson 1997, pp. 123–136
  3. ^ Sibley 2000, p. 141
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Aldrovandi 1600, pp. 45–59
  7. ^ Olina 1622, p. 49, plate 48
  8. ^ Ray 1713, p. 56
  9. ^ Albin 1731, pp. 24–26
  10. ^ Linnaeus 1758
  11. ^ URB 2007
  12. ^  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  13. ^ Proper 1990, pp. 21–22
  14. ^ e.g. Lin-Liu et al. 2006
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b Madge, McGowan & Kirwan 2002
  17. ^ Ray & Adams 2001
  18. ^ Henninger 1906
  19. ^ OOS 2004
  20. ^ NDGFD 1992
  21. ^ Cross 2006
  22. ^ a b h2g2 2007
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ Robertson 1997, p. 124
  29. ^ BBC Four 2005
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ e.g. Ohio: OOS 2004
  33. ^ Robertson 1997, p. 125
  34. ^


Much of the North American hunting is done by groups of hunters, who walk through fields and shoot the birds as they are flushed by dogs such as Labrador Retrievers and Springer Spaniels. There are also many hunters who use Pointers such as English Setters or German Shorthairs to find and hold pheasants for hunters to flush and shoot.

Pheasant hunting is very popular in much of the U.S., especially in the Great Plains states, where a mix of farmland and native grasslands provides ideal habitat. South Dakota alone has an annual harvest of over a million birds a year by over 150,000 hunters.[34]

Most common pheasants bagged in the United States are wild-born feral pheasants. In some states[32] captive-reared and released birds make up much of the population.[33]

Pheasant hunting in North America

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 and farm-raised female birds. In the UK and U.S., game is making somewhat of a comeback in popular cooking, and more pheasants than ever are being sold in supermarkets there.[30] A major reason for this is consumer attitude shift from consumption of red meat to white meat.[31]

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.

Common pheasants are traditionally a target of small game poachers in the UK, but due to low value of pheasants in the modern day some have resorted to stealing chicks or poults from pens.[29] 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.

[22] The

Common pheasants are bred to be hunted and are shot in great numbers in Europe, especially the UK, where they are shot on the traditional formal "driven shoot" principles, whereby paying guns have birds driven over them by beaters, and on smaller "rough shoots". The open season in the UK is 1 October – 1 February, under the Game Act 1831. Generally they are shot by hunters employing gun dogs to help find, flush, and retrieve shot birds. Retrievers, spaniels, and pointing breeds are used to hunt pheasants.

Collisions between pheasants and road vehicles are common in the UK[27]
A field-bred English Cocker Spaniel has brought in the quarry
For sale at Borough Market, London

As gamebirds

Common pheasants were introduced in North America in 1881,[23][24] and have become well established throughout much of the Rocky Mountain states (Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, etc.), the Midwest, the Plains states, as well as Canada and Mexico. In the southwest, they can even be seen south of the Rockies in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge 161 km (100 mi) south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is now most common on the Great Plains. Common pheasants have also been introduced to much of northwest Europe, the Hawaiian Islands, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia including the island state of Tasmania and small offshore islands such as Rottnest Island off Western Australia.[25][26]

The bird was naturalized in Great Britain around the 10th century AD, arguably earlier, by both the Romano-British[21] and the Normans, but became extirpated from most of the isles in the early 17th century. It was rediscovered as a gamebird in the 1830s after being ignored for many years. Since then it has been reared extensively by gamekeepers. Because around 30 million pheasants are released each year on shooting estates, it is widespread in distribution, although most released birds survive less than a year in the wild. The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is researching the breeding success of reared pheasants and trying to find ways to improve this breeding success to reduce the demand to release as many reared pheasants and increase the wild population. As the original Caucasian stock all but disappeared during the Early Modern era, most dark-winged ringless birds in the UK are actually descended from Chinese ringneck and green pheasant hybrids[22] which were commonly used for rewilding.

Common pheasants can now be found across the globe due to their readiness to breed in captivity and the fact they can naturalise in many climates. Pheasants were hunted in their natural range by Stone Age humans just like the grouse, partridges, junglefowls and perhaps peacocks that inhabited Europe at that time. At least since the Roman Empire the bird was extensively introduced in many places and has become a naturalized member at least of the European fauna. Introductions in the Southern Hemisphere have mostly failed, except where local Galliformes or their ecological equivalents are rare or absent.

A startled male makes a dash for cover
Introduced male & female foraging at the Newport Wetlands RSPB Nature Reserve in the United Kingdom.
Although a non-indigenous species, the common pheasant is farmed even in conservation areas, as seen here in Litovelské Pomoraví Protected Landscape Area in the Czech Republic.

As introduced species

The males are polygynous as is typical for many Phasianidae, and are often accompanied by a harem of several females.[20] Common pheasants nest on the ground, producing a clutch of around ten eggs over a 2–3 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.

Common pheasants feed solely on the ground but roost in sheltered trees at night. They eat a wide variety of animal and vegetable type-food, like fruit, seeds and leaves as well as a wide range of invertebrates, with small vertebrates like snakes, lizards, small mammals, and birds occasionally taken.

While common pheasants are able short-distance fliers, they prefer to run. If startled however, they can suddenly burst upwards at great speed, with a distinctive "whirring" wing sound and often giving kok kok kok calls to alert conspecifics. Their flight speed is only 43–61 km/h (27–38 mph) when cruising but when chased they can fly up to 90 km/h (56 mph).

Chicks about 1 hour after hatching

Common pheasants are gregarious birds and outside the breeding season form loose flocks. Wherever they are hunted they are always timid once they associate humans with danger, and will quickly retreat for safety after hearing the arrival of hunting parties in the area.

Common pheasants are native to Asia, their original range extending from between the Black and Caspian Seas to Manchuria, Siberia, Korea, Mainland China and Taiwan. The birds are found in woodland, farmland, scrub, and wetlands. In its natural habitat the common pheasant lives in grassland near water with small copses of trees.[16] Extensively cleared farmland is marginal habitat that cannot maintain self-sustaining populations for long[18][19]

Just hatched, in an egg incubator


Northern part (alpine region) of Korean peninsula to northeastern China (Manchu).
  • Phasianus colchicus pallasi – Manchurian ring-necked pheasant or (Korean) northern ring-necked pheasant
Central and southern Korean Peninsula and Jeju island in S.Korea.
  • Phasianus colchicus karpowi – Korean ring-necked pheasant
Throughout China but widespread in the east, extending to northernmost Vietnam and Taiwan in the south and to the Strait of Tartary region in the north. Most pheasants in North America are of this group.
Usually broad neck ring. Wing coverts tan to light grey (almost white in some), uppertail coverts grey to powder blue with orange tips. Top of head light grey.
  • Phasianus colchicus torquatus group – Chinese ring-necked pheasants including Taiwan pheasant (P. c. formosanus)
SE Turkestan around the Tarim Basin.
No or vestigial neck ring. Wing coverts buff to brown, uppertail coverts dark khaki to light olive.
  • Phasianus colchicus tarimensis group – Tarim pheasants
NE Turkestan and adjacent Mongolia.
Broad neck ring. Wing coverts white, uppertail coverts hue rusty to chestnut, general plumage hue copper.
  • Phasianus colchicus mongolicus group – Mongolian ring-necked pheasants or white-winged ring-necked pheasants
Central Turkestan.
No or vestigial neck ring. Wing coverts white, uppertail coverts and general plumage hue bronze to brown.
  • Phasianus colchicus chrysomelas/principalis group – white-winged pheasants including Prince of Wales pheasant (P. c. principalis)
Caucasus to W Turkestan.
No neck ring. Wing coverts buff to brown, uppertail coverts rusty to chestnut.
  • Phasianus colchicus colchicus group – Caucasus pheasants

The subspecies groups, going from west to east, and some notable subspecies are:

Sometimes this species is split into the Central Asian common and the East Asian ring-necked pheasants, roughly separated by the arid and high mountainous regions of Turkestan. However, while the western and eastern populations probably were entirely separate during the Zyryanka glaciation when deserts were more extensive,[17] this separation was not long enough for actual speciation to occur. Today, the largest variety of color patterns is found where the western and eastern populations mix, as is to be expected. Females usually cannot be identified even to subspecies group with certainty.

There are about 30 subspecies in five (sometimes six) groups.[16] These can be identified according to the male plumage, namely presence or absence of a white neck-ring and the color of the uppertail (rump) and wing coverts. As noted above, introduced population in our time mix the alleles of various races in various amounts, differing according to the original stock used for introductions and what natural selection according to climate and habitat has made of that.

Chinese ringneck-type male (note grey rump) with very pale female, illustrating the dramatic difference in both color and size between sexes as per sexual dimorphism.
Mongolian ringneck-type male
Caucasus pheasant-type male


As of 2005, it had the smallest known genome of all living amniotes, only 0.97 pg (970 million base pairs); however, the black-chinned hummingbird is now currently held to have the smallest.[15]

In the USA, common pheasants are widely known as "ring-necked pheasants". More colloquial North American names include "chinks" or, in Montana, "phezzens".[13] In China, meanwhile, the species is properly called zhi ji (雉鸡)—"pheasant-fowl"—essentially implying the same as the English name "common pheasant". Like elsewhere, P. colchicus is such a familiar bird in China that it is usually just referred to as shan ji (山雞), "mountain chicken",[14] a Chinese term for pheasants in general.

. Phasianus of type species—today only the common and the green pheasant are placed in this genus. As the latter was not known to Linnaeus in 1758, the common pheasant is naturally the Gallus gallus, nowadays red junglefowl and its wild ancestor the domestic chicken—such as the Phasianius genus in his Galliformes Although Linnaeus included many [12] (Φασιανὸς ὂρνις), "bird of the river Phasis".Phasianos ornis the Ancient Greek term corresponding to the English "pheasant" is [11]

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