Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

GenusPhasianus (1)
SizeMale length: 70-90 cm (of which the tail is 35-45 cm) (2)
Female length: 55-70 cm (of which the tail is 20-25 cm) (2)

The pheasant is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). It is introduced to Britain (3). Covered by Game Acts which give protection in the close season and allow it to be shot from 1st October to 1st February (4).

The pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) was introduced to Britain by the Romans and Normans (5); further introductions of various races (or 'subspecies') have been made since (6), and it is now our commonest gamebird (7). As the different races have since interbred, adult plumage is extremely variable (5). Adult males are attractive and unmistakable, with a long tail, bright red wattles around the eyes (5), a chestnut coloured body, and an iridescent green or bluish head, which is often separated from the body by a white collar (5). Females are paler in colour, with spots and streaks, which provide good camouflage (5).

Pheasant shooting became popular in the 17th and 18th Centuries; large numbers of captive-reared birds are released each summer to supply this activity and supplement the population (5). The pheasant is now widely distributed throughout Britain, but is absent from the West Highlands and the islands of Scotland, and from some areas of the uplands in England and Wales (7). It is known throughout western Europe, central Asia, China, Korea and southeastern Siberia, and has been introduced to many other areas (8).

Typically prefers wooded agricultural lowland (7), but pheasants may also occur in gardens, parks and marshes, their preferred habitats in Asia (5).

The pheasants' diet is broad, incorporating seeds, roots, berries, leaves, and insects (5). Males mate with more than one female; females undertake the duties of nesting and rearing chicks alone (5). During late April, between 7 and 15 eggs are laid in a grass-lined hollow on the ground (5). The chicks hatch between 23 and 27 days later, and become independent after 12 to 14 days (5).

Pheasants roost in trees (2), and form flocks in winter when feeding, in which hierarchies develop amongst the females (7)

The pheasant is not currently threatened (1).

The Game Conservancy Trust is currently researching the consequences of releasing large numbers of captive-bred pheasants into small areas (9).

For more information on the pheasant:

For more on British birds:

Information authenticated by the RSPB:

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2011)
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. RSPB pheasant information (July 2003):
  4. RSPB (2003) Pers. comm.
  5. Gooders, J. (1982) Collins British Birds. William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London.
  6. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air. Book Club Associates, London.
  7. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
  8. Walters, M. (1994) Eyewitness Handbooks: Birds' Eggs. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  9. Game Conservancy Trust Research (November 2002):