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The Common Pheasant { Birds of Europe}

Updated on August 1, 2015


The common pheasant Phasianus colchicus belongs to the Galliformes { from gallus meaning a rooster/hen like bird} order of birds and the family Phasianidae within that order.

In the UK there is an estimated 2.2 million females in summer. In the UK the conservation status has not been assessed due to the birds being reared in great numbers and wild or feral birds are hard to determine.

In Europe they are not a bird of concern.There are an estimated 30 sub-species in the world of which colchicus,torqautus,mongolius,principalis and satscheuensis have been recorded in Britain.

The genus name of Phasianus is derived from the River Phasis {ancient Coclchis} were the Argonauts discovered many pheasants and the specific name of colchicus after Colchis, Georgia.

They are distributed in south and central Europe to east and south Africa. They have been introduced into Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Southern Canada and the northern United States. { source BTO}

The European population is estimated to be between 3.4 million and 4.7 million pairs. There follows some population estimates in European countries. Austria 5-,000-150,000 breeding pairs. Belgium 20,000 -100,000 breeding pairs, Croatia 100,000 - 150,000 breeding pairs. France 100,000-300,000 breeding pairs. Germany 120,000-210,000 breeding pairs. Spain 250,000-one million breeding pairs and Ukraine 21,000-30,000 breeding pairs { source Birdlife International}

The Gaelic name for the bird is Easag the Welsh Ffesant and the Irish Piasn.

Painting by Archibald Thorburn
Painting by Archibald Thorburn | Source

What are Galliformes?

Galliformes are a group of birds that consists of the Capercaillie**,Quails**, Patridges,Grouse and Ptermigan,and domesticated birds such as hens ,chickens,Guinea fowl and Turkeys.

There is about 70 genera and more than 250 species split into families such as the Megapodiidae,Scrub fowl and Brush turkeys. Our subject belongs to the family Phasianidae,in this family alone there are over 50 genera and over 200 species.

The family Phasianidae represents the 'typical' pheasants. The 30 recognized sub-species form 5-6 disticnt groups. One is only found on the island of Taiwan and the rest on the Asian mainland.

Here we review the common pheasant P.colchicus and as always we will commence with a description of the subject under review.

** these birds have already been reviewed in other of my hubs in this series.

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain  and Ireland. Richard Crossley.
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley. | Source

Description of Phasianus colchicus

Pheasants are readily distinguishable from other Gallinaceous birds by their long wedge shaped tail,composed of eighteen feathers, the two central feathers of which are much longer than the others. { The Reeves pheasant occasionally reaches six feet in length}.

Under the artificial conditions under which many are bred the plumage is subject to variations. At the beginning of the breeding season the clock pheasant's cheeks become much more bright scarlet,and he becomes more stately in his strut,carries his tail more erect and often hangs his wings down.

The bill is of a light horn colour,darker at the base. The irides are a yellowish hazel colour. The eyes are surrounded by a naked papillose skin, of a bright scarlet colour,minutely spotted with black specks.Under each eye there is a small patch of feathers of a dark spotted glossy purple. The crown of the head is bronzed green, the feathers somewhat elongated. On each side of the occiput is a tuft of dark golden green feathers,which are erected at will.

The rest of the head and the upper part of the neck are a deep purple brown,green or blue as seen in different light.the lower part of the neck and breast a reddish chestnut , each feather with a black margin. The feathers of the upper back,are of an orange red tipped with black. The rest of the feathers on the back have a center of black , or spotted with black,outside which is a yellowish band and the outer margin red-orange.

The lower part of the back and the tail coverts are purplish red,tinged with green-purple and reflections, the feathers long and pendant. The tail feathers are very long the two central ones the longest measuring a foot or more in length. the outside shorter ones,less than six inches long are all reddish brown with transverse lines of black about one inch apart.

The legs toes and claws dusky. On each leg is a spur which becomes sharp after each year.

The female has a much more somber plumage, a general light colour of brown with darker brown and black. In the upper part of the certain light, displays iridescent reflections.The space around the eye is feathered. The breast and belly dotted with small black spots on a lighter background. The tail is relatively short ,but barred similarly to that of the male.

The young birds, till after the first moult have plumage resembling that of the female.

Hen pheasant's are much more sombre in colouring

Taken in Finland
Taken in Finland | Source

General information and historical observations

The 'Typical' pheasants of which our subject P.colchicus may be taken as the type,are all natives of Asia extending as far east as Japan.There is a large number of closely allied species,or local races, which readily interbreed interbreed with one another,and produce,not sterile hybrids,but fertile offspring.

In England, the species originally introduced was the Colchian pheasant P.colchicum was and is still referred to as the old English pheasant. Since its introduction from the est this species has spread over the greater part of Europe.

In its natural environment the pheasant is a forest bird inhabiting the margins of woodland districts and coming into the open country to feed. Where it will take grain,roots,berries,herbage,fruit and insects. Acorns and beech mast form a significant portion of it diet later in the year.

Thompson, the natural historian of Ireland c1800's notes that he took 37 acorns from the crop of a single bird. Although it might be considered injurious to farmers by feeding upon grain,its value in other respects should not be ignored. The crop content of birds were once regularly recorded.and one such record states that 1200 wire worms have been taken out of the crop of a single pheasant. Other records reveal 500 larvae of the cranefly, so injurious, to the roots of grasses,have been taken from the pheasants crop. Snails too, have been taken in large quantities.

The flight of the pheasant is exceedingly strong and rapid. However, like most Gallinaceous birds, its food is sought upon the ground and it is a true rasorial or scratching bird. It runs with a good speed and not infrequently seeks out the safety in rushing through the coverts rather than taking flight.The species is also polygamous,one male associating with many females.

The pheasant although an introduction to the UK, has been here so long and is so common has to warrant its inclusion in the British avifauna. The birds tend to crouch low down in the landscape and sit close.Should one approach to near ,they take off with whirring wings accompanied by a loud gutteral croaking call,often startling the walker as much as the bird itself.

During the winter the birds perch in trees much more than they do in summer,at a height of ten to twenty feet from the ground. During spring the hen often roosts with the male bird. In the early part of winter they roost in open trees, but as the weather deteriorates an evergreen such as holly and fir trees are chosen.

Pheasant images and sound of their call courtesy of Ismail Mujaddadi

Male and female


Pheasants are closely allied to domestic fowl


Pheasants and man

whether we look upon this fine bird as an ornamental to our parks and woods, or in the more gross and epicurean light of an addition luxury for our tables, it has certainly been an importenat part in the annals of the 'sportsman'.

It could be said, that because they are so popular a game-bird, that the habitat they require, dense woodland ground cover, has been in many districts artificially made by man. Any wild populations derived solely by means of escape from the care and attention bestowed upon the species by the gentry that bred them for the gun.

The throaty crowing of the pheasant can be heard the whole year at the time of roosting. It is frequently heard through the night,and again at sunrise,and during the hours of daylight it will crow on the occurrence of any sudden disturbance such as a gunshot or a peal of thunder.

It is remarkable that, although so closely allied to the domestic fowl, the pheasant is incapable of true domestication, the young birds,after being reared,are taken to the woods and trees as they reach maturity. At best the birds can only be classed as semi-domesticated. Charles Waterton,penned the following notes on the subject --" Notwithstanding the proximity of the pheasant to the nature of barn-door fowl,still it has within it which baffles attempts on our part to make domestication complete. What I allude to is, a most singular innate timidity, which never fails to show itself on the sudden and abrupt appearance of an object. I spent some months in trying to overcome the timorous propensity in the pheasant, but I failed completely in every attempt."

The author continues, " The young birds which had been hatched under a domestic hen soon became very tame and would even take food from the hand, when it was offered cautiously to them. They would fly up to the window,and would feed in company with the common poultry, but if anyone approached them unawares, off they went to the nearest cover,with surprising velocity, they remained in it until all was quiet,and then returned with their usual confidence."

" Two of them lost their lives in the water,by the unexpected appearance of a pointer,while the barn-door fowl seemed scarcely to notice the presence of the intruder. The rest took finely to the woods at the commencement of the breeding season. This particular kind of timidity,which does not appear in our domestic fowls,seems to me to oppose only, though at the same time an insurmountable,bar to our final triumph over the pheasant"

At one time the eggs were collected and put under domestic hens, and the chicks were placed under the care of their foster parents,which were usually confined to coops. Under these conditions they were fed until they were able to take refuge and roost in trees.

Pheasants crouch low in the herbage


Pheasant's Have Always Brought Good Prices at the Market


Pheasant and the poacher

Their large size and conspicuous appearance render them an easy prey to prowling marauders at ' many a shiny night of the year',and their value for the table furnished a strong incentive to take them. The paths they form in thickets,invited the treacherous snare, and the airgun could easily reach them at their visible roosts. Even a noose at the end of a long pole was employed by poachers in days gone by. Should the birds take to the wing , their size made them more difficult to miss than to bring down.

The poacher was always at odds with the Gamekeeper,who defended his stock diligently,he saved his charges from the poacher,only to rear them to be shot by the guns of the gentry,who paid good money for the 'sport' and hence the game-keepers wages.

Because the birds were bought at a high price, the poacher was as much a part of the pheasant's life as the Gamekeeper was. There was once a veteran and determined poacher who's antic were recorded for posterity. " The man made no secret of his nefarious proceedings and who, we believe, was never convicted for poaching, and yet he lived entirely on the profits of this, his regular business,and never, that anyone knew,applied himself to any thing else. He was well known, and consequently often watched,and yet always contrived to baffle his watchers in one way or another. Sometimes before the 12th of August, he would start off for the moors,and, no doubt,did not return before reaping a good harvest."

" He used to insinuate that much of his profits on these occasions was derived from unsuccessful,would-be sportsmen, of whom there is always a goodly number on some of our moors. After deriving all the profit he could from the moors, he returned south for the Partridge and pheasant season"

Nest ,eggs and young.

In the winter months the 'wild' pheasant males,generally keep to themselves. However, during spring, usually in the early part of March, he will choose his domain, and will commence strutting and crowing and clapping their wings in the admiration of the females.

As previously mentioned the male pheasant is polygamous and will associate with many females. The nest itself is a mere scrape in the ground,although usually well hidden in tall herbage.In this country {England}, the pheasant commences egg laying during April or May. The female will deposit between ten and fourteen eggs which are incubated by the female for between twenty three and twenty eight days,depending on the circumstances. When the pheasant leaves her nest she will cover her nest with leaves or other herbage to conceal them from her many predators.

In the artificial state in which they are kept in captivity and the abundance of food given to them egg laying has a prolonged season.

After the chicks hatch the female is deserted by the male and she takes full charge of her brood which she will give protection to until they end of August or the beginning of September until the moult. After the moult the young birds can only be told from the older birds by the shortness of their spur.

Hen with her newly hatched brood

Taken in Germany
Taken in Germany | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, I agree with you that they are beautiful birds the plumage of the male is beautifully coloured. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I grew up in Maine, and we had the Ring-necked Pheasant. They were hunted there, too, but they never touched my lips. They were plentiful and gorgeous.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hello my friend, thank you for your visit which is always welcome. they are common in the UK,sadly because they are bred to be shot, or it could be the case that we too,would only see them in zoos. Thank you too for your vote up and interesting much appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 

      6 years ago from Jaipur

      Interesting info about a common bird in the UK. In India, we can see these birds only in the zoo. There are few in Jaipur zoo.

      Rated up and interesting.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Devika, pheasants are beautiful and were they not so common in the UK they would be much more appreciated for their beautiful plumage. The tail feathers are often used to adorn the hats of country people. Thank you for your usual kind comments and for all the votes,as always much appreciated. Best wishes to you.


      Hello my friend, thank you for your visit and you are correct on both counts. Best wishes to you.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      6 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      What a beautiful bird. Too bad about the hunting but they are delicious to eat.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beautiful photos! I always heard of this special type of pheasant but had not seen it. Even though I lived in South Africa for most of my life I did not see this pheasant. An interesting and so informative hub.It has an unusual feature including the tail. Voted up, interesting, useful and beautiful.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Ann, Thanks for that, they are protected here as well during the breeding season. It is a sad fact that if they were not hunted, or to be more exact if they were not introduced to be hunted, they would probably not occur in your country or mine. Thank you for kind comments.Best wishes to you.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image


      6 years ago from Orange, Texas

      In Nebraska, were I grew up, pheasants are commonly seen running in the grass beside highways. They are under protection until hunting season, then they are a game-bird. It's really sad that such a beautiful bird is hunted. Interesting hub and excellent pictures.


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