Male Ringnecked Pheasant, race torquatus
Common Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus|
Green Pheasant, Phasianus versicolor
The adult pheasant is 50-90 cm in length with a long tail, often accounting for half the total length. The male (or cock) has barred bright brown plumage and green, purple and white markings, often including a white ring around the neck, and the head is green with distinctive red patches. This bird is also called the Common or English Pheasant, or just Pheasant.
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 female (hen) is much less showy, with a duller mottled brown plumage all over, similar to that of the partridge. The birds are found on wooded land and scrub. They feed on the ground on grain, leaves and invertebrates, but roost in trees at night. They nest on the ground, producing a clutch of around ten eggs in April to June. While they are able short-distance fliers, they prefer to run: but if startled they can suddenly burst upwards at great speed, with a distinctive wing sound.
They are native to Asia but have been widely introduced elsewhere, where they are bred to be hunted and are shot in great numbers. 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.
Pheasant farming is a common practice. Birds are supplied both to hunting preserves and restaurants, with smaller numbers being available for home cooks. Pheasant farms have some 10 million birds in the U.S. alone.
The bird was brought to Britain around the 10th century but became extinct in the early 17th century; it was reintroduced in the 1830s and is now widespread. Repeated reintroduction has made the pheasant a very variable species in regard to size and plumage. Pheasants have probably been present in North America from the 18th century but became common in the wild in the late 1800s. They are most common in the Great Plains.
Male colchicus Pheasant: note peanut bait
The Green Pheasant of Japan is very similar to Common Pheasant, but the males have greenish plumage.