Brown eared-pheasant (Crossoptilon mantchuricum)

Also known as: Manchurian eared-pheasant
Spanish: Faisán Orejudo de Manchuria, Faisán Orejudo Pardo
GenusCrossoptilon (1)
SizeLength: 96 – 100 cm (2)
Tail length: c. 54.5 cm (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1), listed on Appendix I of CITES (3) and nationally protected under Chinese law (1).

A unique feature of eared-pheasants (Crossoptilon spp.) is that males and females are virtually identical, even more remarkable as the plumage is highly specialised and ornamental (4). This brown-eared pheasant has a velvety black head and neck, gradually shading to a deep brown on the body and whitish on the lower back and rump, which extends into a long soft white tail, broadly tipped in black (4) (5). The bare facial skin and legs are a crimson-red, but the bird is most notable for its prominent white cheek tufts that extend from the base of the bill, somewhat resembling an up-turned moustache (4) (5). The male is slightly larger than the female, but can only really be distinguished by its spurs, which are larger and rounder at the base than the hen’s (4) (5) (6).

The brown-eared pheasant is endemic to northern China (5), including Shanxi, Shaanxi, Hebei and western Beijing (7).

The brown eared-pheasant breeds in montane broad-leaved and mixed coniferous forests up to 2,600 metres above sea level, but in winter, moves to lower altitudes, down to 1,100 metres above sea level, where it occupies scrub at the forest edge on south-facing slopes (2) (5).

The brown-eared-pheasant is a gregarious bird, typically living in flocks of ten to thirty individuals for more for much of the year, and separating into monogamous pairs in spring (4) (8). The breeding season starts in mid-March, when pairs move to higher altitudes and establish and defend well-sheltered territories with good food supplies (8). The courtship display of the cock consists of much running around and calling, with wings lowered, tail raised up, scarlet face wattles extended and the neck rounded (4). Nests are made on the ground in a protected spot, into which clutches of four to twenty eggs are laid from early April, and incubated by the female for 26 to 27 days (8).

The brown eared-pheasant is mainly herbivorous, using its powerful beak to dig up roots and tubers, but also feeds on stems, leaves, buds, fruits, seeds, insects and worms (4) (8). 

The population of the brown-eared pheasant appears to be stable or even increasing within protected areas, but declining elsewhere in the face of ongoing habitat loss and illegal hunting (5) (8) (9). The species’ range has been reduced and widely fragmented due to large-scale cutting of trees for agriculture and urban development, and degraded by logging and livestock-grazing (5) (10). As a result, remaining scattered, isolated populations have become more accessible to farmers and highly vulnerable to disturbance caused by grazing and human activities (8) (10). Even within protected areas, certain pressures remain, and often a lack of management or staff means that local communities continue to collect firewood and cut trees illegally, and poison baits are still used to hunt common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), presumably also affecting the brown eared-pheasant (8). Egg collection and disturbance by local people collecting fungi are thought to be the cause of high nest failure rates at some Nature Reserves (5) (8) (9).

The brown eared-pheasant is nationally protected in China, and the several nature reserves in which it occurs (Luyashan, Pangquangou, Wulushan, Heichashan, Xiaowutaishan, Baihuashan, Hancheng and Huanglongshan) are considered crucial for the protection of the species and its habitat (5) (8) (9). There is even evidence that numbers have increased in Luyashan, Xiaowutaishan and Pangquangou since the reserves were established. In 1996, the provincial wildlife department in Taiyuan and the headquarters of Pangquanguo National Nature Reserve were requested to stop the mushroom exploitation that was disturbing this species, which they have done (8). Tree-planting and forest management programmes since the 1980s are also likely to have benefited this species in some areas. Additionally, the bird’s biology and conservation are currently being intensively studied by the researchers from Beijing Normal University (5) (9). There are estimated to be approximately 1,000 brown eared-pheasants in captivity world-wide, including captive populations in Pangquangou National Nature Reserve, Xiaowutaishan Nature Reserve, Beijing Zoo, and the Beijing Breeding Centre for Endangered Species (8).

For more information on the brown eared-pheasant see:

Authenticated (26/10/10) by Zhang Zheng-wang, Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Biodiversity Sciences and Ecological Engineering, College of Life Sciences, Beijing Normal University.

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2008)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World - New World Vultures To Guineafowl. Vol. 2. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (June, 2006)
  4. Delacour, J. (1951) The Pheasants of the World. Country Life Ltd., London.
  5. BirdLife International (August, 2006)
  6. Dedicated to the Aviculture and Conservation of the World’s Galliformes (August, 2006)
  7. Zhang, Z.W. (October, 2010) Pers. comm.
  8. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  9. Zhang, Z. W., Zhang, G. G., Zheng, G.M., Yang, X. M. and Wu, J.Y. (2002) Distribution and population status of brown eared-pheasant in China. In: Galliformes 2000. World Pheasant Association, Reading, UK.
  10. Zoological Museum of the University of Amsterdam (ZMA) (August, 2006)