Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

The Common Pheasant is one of the most well known and easily recognised of British game birds most frequently seen as road kill during certain times of the year or as visitors to domestic gardens. Although a native of Asia it has been introduced in many areas of the world (although it is not present in Africa) and is one of the most hunted game birds in the world having been hunted by humans since the Stone Age.

The adult male is normally between 2ft and 3ft in length with its long tail being up to half this length. The feathers are of barred pattern with gold and brown as well as green, purple and white markings but colour variation is common due to hybrids of various sub species. The birds head is the most distinctive feature being dark green almost black with a small crest and red wattle, many but not all have a white neck ring, females are a mottled light brown with a spotty pattern and blend into their normal woodland habitat very well. The females are about 30% smaller with a smaller tail, young of both sexes look like female birds until the young males reach about 10 weeks then they start to develop the coloured feathers.

Since the bird is so common most countries just call them Common Pheasants although they are known as ‘Chinese Pheasants’ in the USA and they are so common in China where many other pheasant types occur they are often called “mountain chickens”. They can fly but only short distances and normal use a short fast burst of up to 60mph when evading predators  flying up from cover. Normally they prefer to run and are ground feeders although they roost in trees for safety. The are omnivores eating fruit, seeds, leaves and insects as well as small reptiles, mammals and young birds given the opportunity. Although normally seen alone or as a breeding pair given the chance the birds will form small flocks, males will sometimes have a harem of several females.

Common Pheasants will make a nest on the ground and lay around a dozen eggs between April and June  with the eggs hatching about 3 ½ weeks later. The young grow quickly and look like adults within 15 weeks. They arrived in Britain around 10th century AD but became popular as a game bird in the early 19th century.  The RSPB estimate there are around 1.9 million females in the UK being most common in open countryside near woodland and much less common in urban or upland areas, they aren't found in the far north of the UK or the West of Scotland. They are also farmed by gamekeepers for shooting with the UK season being from 1st October to 1st February, they are normally shot for sport but have been subject to poaching but their low market value doesn't make this common.  Their meat is greatly improved by hanging to let the meat slightly decompose (eg gamey meat) but supermarket bought Pheasants are normally fresh and farm raised