Elliot’s pheasant (Syrmaticus ellioti)

Also known as: Chinese barred-backed pheasant
Spanish: Faisán de Elliot
GenusSyrmaticus (1)
SizeFemale length: 50 cm (2)
Male length: 80 cm (2)

Elliot's pheasant is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed in Appendix I of CITES (2) (3).

Elliot’s pheasant (Syrmaticus ellioti) is a boldly marked bird, with a long barred tail. Males are reddish-brown in colour with a whitish-grey hood and a black throat. The belly is white and there are white bars on the wing and shoulder (2). The lower part of the back and the tail are barred with grey and chestnut with black lines (4). Females are generally duller in colour than males, with more greyish-brown. They lack the shoulder and wing bars seen in males and have shorter tails with less obvious barring (2). Juveniles are duller than females and have white throats (4). In flight the wings of this species produce audible whirring sounds, and vocalisations include low clucks, chuckles and a shrill squeal (2).

Elliot's pheasant is endemic to southeast and southwest China, south of the Yangtze River (5) (6).

Found in a great range of subtropical forest types in the mountains of south China, typically in lower and mid-altitude forests at 200 to 1,900 metres (2) (5). The key habitats needed by Elliot's pheasant are broadleaf forests (evergreen and deciduous) and mixed coniferous and broadleaf forest (2). Breeding habitat requires a dense canopy cover of over 90 percent (2).

Elliot’s pheasant is an omnivore, and its diet changes with the season. It feeds on plants, buds, seeds, fruits, stems and grains as well as insects and eggs (5).

The breeding system of this pheasant is termed ‘polygynous’, meaning that one male pairs with more than one female, in this species a male typically has two or three mates. The males take no part in nest construction, incubation or care of the chicks. Females lay their eggs between mid-March and late May, with 4 to 12 eggs per clutch, although average clutch sizes tend to be five to eight eggs (5).

This species is undergoing a rapid and worrying decline. Reasons for this decline include habitat loss and degradation, disturbance by humans, hunting for food, and pollution (2). The range in which Elliot's pheasant occurs has a very dense human population, and demands for agricultural land and timber have resulted in the widespread clearance of forests (5).

International trade in this vulnerable species is tightly controlled by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It is also nationally-protected (First Class) in China (2). Elliot's pheasant occurs in or close to a number of protected areas at the present time. There are around 1,000 individuals in captive breeding establishments around the world, however, the most important conservation action must be habitat protection; if there is no original habitat remaining, captive breeding (which has the ultimate aim of carrying out reintroductions to the original range) is rendered redundant. Proposed conservation measures include the evaluation of current protected areas supporting this species, and their improvement or extension. In addition to this, the wide range of this pheasant occurring outside of reserves must also be protected by controlling logging and establishing logging-free zones. Research and education programmes have also been established (5).

Authenticated (18/05/2006) by Liang Wei, Associate Professor, Hainan Normal University.

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
  2. BirdLife International (March, 2004)
  3. CITES Appendices (May, 2008)
  4. Erritzoe, J. (1993) The birds of CITES and how to identify them. The Lutterworth Press, Cambridge.
  5. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  6. Wei, L. (2006) Pers. comm.