Copper pheasant (Syrmaticus soemmerringii)

Also known as: Soemmering's pheasant
GenusSyrmaticus (1)
SizeMale size: 87.5 – 136 cm (2)
Female size (of subspecies scintillans): 51 – 54 cm (2)

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1).

This striking species of long-tailed pheasant (Syrmaticus spp.) is named for the metallic, coppery-red plumage of the male (3) (4). The head and neck are uniformly chestnut-red, and conspicuous red face wattles surround the eyes, while underparts are paler and duller in colour (4). However, great variation exists both individually and according to distribution, with males of the southernmost subspecies (five currently recognised) being darker and more richly-coloured, although there remains great debate over the validity of these classifications (2) (4). Females are chestnut-brown vermiculated with buff and black, and with bold dark markings on the wings. While males have a very long tail, it is rather short and broad in the female (4).

The copper pheasant is found on the islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu in Japan (5). Subspecies: the scintillating copper pheasant (S. s. scintillans) occurs in northern and central Honshu; the Shikoku copper pheasant (S. s. intermedius) in south-western Honshu and Shikoku; the Pacific copper pheasant (S. s. subrufus) in south-eastern Honshu and south-western Shikoku; Soemmering's copper pheasant (S. s. soemmeringii) in northern and central Kyushu; and the Ijima copper pheasant (S. s. ijimae) in south-eastern Kyushu (2) (3).

Inhabits coniferous, broadleaved and mixed forest with dense undergrowth, and also rough mountainous country, up to 1,800 m above sea level (2) (5).

The breeding season starts in March in the south of the copper pheasant’s range, and in April to May in the north (2), with egg-laying recorded from the end of March to the beginning of July (4). This bird is one of the showiest of all pheasants, with a spectacular and lengthy courtship ritual (6). In display, the cock puffs out his head, neck and body feathers, flares his scarlet face wattles, spreads his tail, and whirrs his wings several times (4) (6). This is then followed by the cock repeatedly running around the hen, stopping periodically to lower his wings and spread his tail as he faces her (6). Clutches of 6 to 13 (typically 7) eggs are laid into a nest on the ground, and are then incubated for 24 to 25 days (in captivity) (2) (4).

The diet consists of acorns and seeds taken from the forest floor. Insects, earthworms, and even small crabs have also been reported, with animal matter making up the bulk of the diet for young birds (2).

Once common, the copper pheasant is now seldom seen in the wild, having declined dramatically in recent decades due to large-scale hunting for sport. Habitat loss has also impacted copper pheasant populations, and feral cats and dogs may be reducing breeding success. Hybridisation between the five subspecies may also pose a problem (5).

The shooting of females was banned in 1976, their preservation being more critical to the survival of the species because of their greater reproductive involvement (5). However, there is a need to further regulate sport hunting so that it is maintained at sustainable levels (2) (5).

For more information on the copper pheasant see:

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World - New World Vultures To Guineafowl. Vol. 2. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)