AppearanceThere 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. Body weight can range from 0.5 to 3 kg , with males averaging 1.2 kg and females averaging 0.9 kg .
The adult male Common Pheasant of the nominate subspecies ''Phasianus colchicus colchicus'' is 60–89 cm in length with a long brown streaked black tail, accounting for almost 50 cm 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 is much less showy, with a duller mottled brown plumage all over and measuring 50–63 cm long including a tail of around 20 cm . 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 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 and flavistic specimens. The former are rather common in some areas and are named Tenebrosus Pheasant .
NamingThere are about 30 subspecies in five groups. These can be identified according to the male plumage, namely presence or absence of a white neck-ring and the color of the uppertail 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.
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, 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.
The subspecies groups, going from west to east, and some notable subspecies are:
⤷ ''Phasianus colchicus colchicus'' group – Caucasus Pheasants
⟶ Caucasus to W Turkestan.
⟶ No neck ring. Wing coverts buff to brown, uppertail coverts rusty to chestnut.
⤷ ''Phasianus colchicus chrysomelas/principalis'' group – White-winged Pheasants including Prince of Wales Pheasant
⟶ Central Turkestan.
⟶ No or vestigial neck ring. Wing coverts white, uppertail coverts and general plumage hue bronze to brown.
⤷ ''Phasianus colchicus mongolicus'' group – Mongolian Ring-necked Pheasants or White-winged Ring-necked Pheasants
⟶ NE Turkestan and adjacent Mongolia.
⟶ Broad neck ring. Wing coverts white, uppertail coverts hue rusty to chestnut, general plumage hue copper.
⤷ ''Phasianus colchicus tarimensis'' group – Tarim Pheasants
⟶ 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 torquatus'' group – Chinese Ring-necked Pheasants including Taiwan 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 , uppertail coverts grey to powder blue with orange tips. Top of head light grey.
⤷ * ''Phasianus colchicus karpowi'' – Korean Ring-necked Pheasant
⟶ Central and southern Korean Peninsula and Jeju island in S.Korea.
⤷ * '' Phasianus colchicus pallasi'' – Manchurian Ring-necked Pheasant or Northern Ring-necked Pheasant
⟶ Northern part of Korean peninsula to northeastern China .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.
The bird was naturalized in Great Britain around the 10th century AD, arguably earlier, by both the Romano-British 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 which were commonly used for rewilding.
Common Pheasants were introduced in North America in 1881, and have become well established throughout much of the Rocky Mountain states , 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 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, St. Helena, Tasmania, New Zealand, and Rottnest Island off Australia. It has also been unsuccessfully introduced to many other countries.
HabitatCommon 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. Extensively cleared farmland is marginal habitat that cannot maintain self-sustaining populations for long
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.
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 when cruising but when chased they can fly up to 90 km/h .
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.
The males are polygynous as is typical for many Phasianidae, and are often accompanied by a harem of several females. Common Pheasants 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.
FoodMost common pheasants bagged in the United States are wild-born feral pheasants; in some states captive-reared and released birds make up much of the population
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 create ideal habitat. South Dakota alone has an annual harvest of over a million birds a year by over 150,000 hunters.
Much of the North American hunting is done by groups of hunters with flushing dogs such as Labrador Retrievers and Springer Spaniels walking through fields and shooting the birds as they take flight. 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.
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