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.

Male Lady Amherst's Pheasant

In the wild both these species are very hard to see, and their ecology is little known. They seem to prefer dense bamboo thickets and conifers, where they can come and go without being exposed to predators. They are clumsy fliers, and much prefer to run through the cover to escape natural enemies. Females approach and leave their nests very stealthily. The wild diet is probably a mixture of bamboo and other seeds and invertebrates.
Female Lady Amherst's Pheasant
The beautiful colours of the males and their ease of maintenance in captivity means that they have been kept as display birds for many years – in fact George Washington kept Golden Pheasants at Mount Vernon. They are not very large birds, and are fairly quiet as well, so are widely kept even in back gardens, as long as a fox-proof enclosure is available. Minimum size is around 15m2 floor area, with plenty of shade and cover. Males will fight, but can be kept with several hens. They also ignore other birds, so can be kept in mixed aviaries. The hen lays 10-12 eggs in each clutch. As they come from high altitudes, they are perfectly cold-hardy in the UK.

Unfortunately, there is one problem with captive Golden and Lady Amherst’s pheasants, in that they readily hybridize. A high percentage of the captive population of Golden’s carries at least some amherstiae blood, and as far as is known all captive amherstiae have some pictus in them, even if they are apparently identical to the wild phenotype.
Male Reeve's Pheasant
A few other species of pheasant may also be occasionally seen in the wild, of which Reeves Pheasant Syrmaticus reevesi is the most common. An attempt was made to introduce it to Scotland deliberately for shooting in the 19th century, but the population did not establish. They may breed sometimes in the wild in Norfolk, where they have been seen several times in recent years. They have been established more successfully in other parts of the worls, including France, central Europe, and parts of the US, including Hawai’i.

Next week, the most important native gamebird in Britain after Red Grouse, the Grey Partridge.

(images from wikipedia)

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