Pheasant

Phasianus colchicus

53-90cm

Appearance

The Pheasant is a commonly seen, large game bird. Its neck is proportionately long, it has a small head and a long tail. The sexes differ in appearance; the male is bright with a mixture of colours. His body is copper-coloured with small dark patches on the flanks and breast, his head has a blue-green gleam, he has a big red wattle and a large ginger tail. He has small ear-tufts and some individuals have a white collar. Some birds who are captive-bred and then released have almost uniformly violet-blue plumage, and the breeding of different races results in a range of plumage colours. The female is smaller than the male, her tail shorter, and she is a mottled brownish-yellow with dark smudges on her flanks. Juvenile birds resemble a shabby female; their pattern is less distinct.

Habitat

Its ideal habitat is where farmland is combined with woodlands. Can often be found near thick hedges and also in more open countryside where they prefer reed-filled ditches. They can be found in suitable territories across Britain and Ireland, but not in the north-west of Scotland.

Character

The territorial call of the male is a familiar part of the soundscape in the countryside. Pheasants tend to spend most of their time on the ground, though roosting can occur in raised vegetation during the night. Usually runs if it feels threatened, but can explode into the air vertically; when in flight, its wingbeats are rapid and are proceeded by gliding with bowed wings. Tends to be fairly inconspicuous in areas where it's hunted, though may otherwise be quite tame, and spends majority of the year in flocks or small groups.

Food

Has a varied diet including roots, grain and seeds such as acorns, berries, hawthorn and other shrubs. Eats insects such as ants and beetles in summer.

Breeding

Male often mates with a group of females. Females lay 10-14 eggs between March and June and she incubates them for 23-28 days; males usually don't associate with young. Chicks can rise off the ground after 12 days if they're threatened, but don't gain full independence until 70-80 days old.

Population

This bird is resident in Britain and is not migratory. Hunting makes counting the population a challenge; it's estimated that approximately 15 million captive-bred birds are released each autumn, 7 million of which are shot during the winter.

Observation Tips

These birds shouldn't be too difficult to find on a lowland walk through one of their many regions; they're of most interest after the shooting ceases (in late winter and early spring) when males begin to display.

Voice

The most common call is a far-reaching 'kor-ork, -ok-ok', usually heard at dusk or as a reaction to sudden, loud noises. A shrieking call proceeded by energetic beatings of the wings signifies the male's territorial call. When alarmed, a loud 'ke-tuk, ke-tuk' is released as the bird takes to air.
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