2 minute read


Species Of Pheasants, Pheasants And People

Pheasants are large species of fowl in the family Phasianidae, which also includes the partridges, peafowl, guinea fowl, francolins, and quail. The greatest diversity of pheasants occurs in Asia, but native species also occur in Africa and Europe. In addition, many species of pheasants have been widely introduced as gamebirds beyond their natural range. Pheasants are also kept as handsome showbirds in zoos, parks, and private aviaries.

Male pheasants, or cocks, are beautifully colored birds, with a distinctive, long tail that approximately doubles the length of the animal. Their body can be colored in hues and patterns of yellow, orange, golden, red, blue, green, black, or white. Female pheasants, or hens, have a much more subdued and cryptic coloration. Pheasants also have a long neck, a strong beak that is hooked at the tip, and strong legs and feet for scratching in the forest floor to find their food of fruits, seeds, and invertebrates.

Pheasants are mostly terrestrial birds, foraging widely over the forest floor for food. At night, however, most species roost in trees for safety.

Cock pheasants are strongly territorial during the breeding season. They defend their territory by making loud screeches, cackles, crowings, and squawks. Cock pheasants will also fight each other when necessary, using a sharp spur on the back of their leg as a potentially lethal weapon. Cock pheasants mount spectacular displays to impress potential mates, including elaborate struttings with their colorful finery displayed to its best vantage, with the tail spread widely in some species.

Pheasants are polygynous, meaning a single male will mate with as many females as possible. Competition for mates is very intense in polygynous species, and this commonly leads to the evolution of seemingly bizarre traits in male birds, which are intended to impress the females. Some of these traits may even be maladaptive in terms of everyday life, for example, by making male birds more vulnerable to being found and killed by predators. However, the traits are highly favorable in terms of sexual selection, and this is why they can persist in the population.

Most species of pheasants nest on the ground, but some do so in trees. Female pheasants build the nest, incubate the eggs, and care for the chicks. Pheasant babies are precocious, meaning they can leave the nest soon after birth, following their hen and foraging for themselves. The family group stays in close contact by frequently clucking and peeping at each other. The chicks develop quickly, developing flight feathers and the ability to fly long before they reach adult size.

A male ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) on Pelee Island, Ontario. Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Pebi- to History of Philosophy - Indifferentism