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Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) - Wiki
The Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), otherwise known as the Ring-necked Pheasant or Chinese Pheasant is a gamebird in the pheasant family Phasianidae of the order Galliformes, gallinaceous birds. They are native to Asia but have been introduced elsewhere as a game bird.
The Common Pheasant is one of the worlds most commonly hunted birds and is commercially farmed for this purpose.
The specific epithet, colchicus, refers to Colchis, a region in the Caucasus, where truly wild pheasants are found.
There are many races of the pheasant, ranging in colour quite literally from pure white to almost black in some melanistic examples.
The adult male pheasant is 76-89 cm in length with a long brown streaked black tail, accounting for almost 50cm the total length. The male is known as the cock or rooster. The body plumage is barred bright gold and brown plumage with green, purple and white markings. In some birds there is a white ring around the neck, and the head is bottle green with a small crest and distinctive red wattles.
The nominate race P. c. colchicus lacks a white neck ring. This is however shown by the race Ring-necked Pheasant, P. c. torquatus The sub-species epithet torquatus means "collared.
The female (hen) is much less showy, with a duller mottled brown plumage all over and measuring 53-63cm with a tail of around 20cm. Juvenile birds have the appearance of the female with a shorter tail until young males begin to grow characteristic bright feathers on the breat, head and back at about 10 weeks.
The Green Pheasant of Japan is very similar to Common Pheasant, but the males have dark greenish plumage and females are darker. The Ring-Necked Pheasant is the state bird of South Dakota, one of only three US state birds that is not a species native to the United States.
Distribution and habitat
Pheasants are native to Asia, their original range extending from between the Black and Caspian seas to Manchuria, Siberia, Korea, China, Japan and Taiwan.
Pheasants can now be found across the globe due to their readiness to breed in captiviy and the fact they can naturalise in many climates.
The bird was brought to Great Britain around the 10th century, arguably earlier, by both the Romans and Normans, but became locally extinct in the early 17th century. It was rediscovered as a gamebird asfter being ignored for many years were "rediscovered" in the 1830s, 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. Repeated reintroduction has made the pheasant a very variable species in regard to size and plumage.
Pheasants were introduced in North America in 1857, and have become well established throughout much of the Midwest, the Plains states, and parts of the West. It is now most common on the Great Plains.
Pheasants have also been introduced to Tasmania, New Zealand, much of north-west Europe, the Hawaiian Islands, Chile, St Helena and Rottnest Island. It has also been unsuccessfully introduced to many other countries.
The birds are found in woodland, farmland, scrub and wetlands. In its natural habitat the pheasant lives in grassland near water with scattered trees.
Pheasants are gregarious birds and outside the breeding season form loose flocks. Wherever they are hunted they are always timid.
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.
Pheasants feed solely on the ground but roost in sheltered trees by night. A wide variety of animal and vegetable food. Fruit, seeds and leaves as well as a wide range of invertebrates, with snakes, lizards, small mammals and birds occasionally taken.
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.
The males are polygynous and are often accompanied by a harem of several females.
Role as Game Bird
Pheasants are bred to be hunted and are shot in great numbers in Europe, especially the UK, where they are hunted on the traditional "driven shoot" pinciples and on smaller "rough shoots". It was, and to some extent still is, a Royal pastime to shoot pheasants in Britain. King George V shot over a thousand pheasants out of a total bag of 3937 on 18 December 1913, a total which still stands as the British record bag.
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.
In many parts of the United States and the United Kingdom the pheasant is seen as the premier upland game bird. Some states in the US derive significant revenue from pheasant hunting. In most states only the males are legally huntable.
Generally they are pursued by hunters employing gun dogs. The dogs help the hunter find, flush, and retrieve birds when they have been shot. Retrievers, spaniels, and pointing breeds are used to hunt pheasant, although many pointing dogs have trouble with a bird that runs as readily as a pheasant.
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. In the UK, game is making somewhat of a comeback in popular cooking, and more pheasants than ever are being sold in UK supermarkets.
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