Saturday, 29 September 2012

Galliformes 6: Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge
Before the increase in managed shooting estates aimed at pheasants, the most commonly hunted gamebird in Britain was the Grey Partridge, Perdix perdix. One of three species in its genus, the natural range extends from the Arctic Circle south to the Mediterranean, and from western Europe across to western China. To the east and south of its range it is replaced by the very similar Daurian Partridge, P. daurica, and on the Tibetan plateau by the rather distinct Tibetan Partridge, P.hodgsoniae.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Galliformes 5: Other UK pheasants

Male Golden Pheasant
As well as the Common pheasants released for hunting, a few other species have either escaped or been released into the wild in the UK, and a few have at least temporarily established themselves in the wild. The two species most often seen are species of Chrysolophus, particularly the widely kept Golden Pheasant, C.pictus. More rarely seen is the only other species in the genus, Lady Amherst’s Pheasant. C.amherstiae. Although both have bred in the wild, at present only a tiny population of Golden Pheasant is known to still exist in a feral state, although free-ranging birds can be seen in many zoos and parks, including Kew Gardens in London.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Galliformes 4: Common Pheasant

P.colchicus male - hybrid swarm type
On a drive through the countryside in much of the UK, the most instantly recognizable bird you have a good chance of seeing is a Common or Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus. Although most people think of it as native, it is in fact an introduced species, and like many pheasants its natural distribution is in Asia, reaching no farther west than the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus (ancient Colchis of Jason and the Argonauts fame, which is where the specific name comes from). The range extends from their westwards north of the Himalaya as far as the Pacific, reaching north to Siberia and south to northern Vietnam and Taiwan. In Japan it is replaced by the closely related Green Pheasant, P.versicolor. Wherever it is found, the habitat preference is for grassland and farmland with small copses and woodland edge, which it needs for roosting and nesting.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Galliformes 3: Satyr Tragopan

Male Satyr Tragopan
In the forests of the Himalaya across to as far east as the mountains of Vietnam can be found five species of large pheasant in the genus Tragopan. These distinctive birds usually live in deciduous forest with an understorey of rhododendron and bamboo, at fairly high altitudes – well over 4,200m, although they may descend to lower altitudes in the winter. At Bristol we have one of the more richly coloured of the group, the Satyr Tragopan or Horned Pheasant, Tragopan satyra.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Galliformes 2: Palawan Peacock-Pheasant

Male Palawan Peacock-pheasant
Scattered through the forests of south east Asia and related islands are a group of six or seven species of small pheasant in the genus Polyplectron. Most of the species have the wings of the males ornamented with eye spots reminiscent of those on a peacocks tail, from which they get their English name of Peacock-pheasant. In fact, recent DNA analysis has shown that they are indeed related to their much larger cousins, and also other pheasants with highly ornamented wings and tails such as the Great Argus pheasant Argusianus argus, the Congo Peafowl Afropavo congensis and the Crested Argus Rheinartia ocellata.