Phasianidaeturkeys, grouse, pheasants, and partridges


Phasianidae is a diverse group comprising over 50 genera and over 214 species. Phasianid galliforms are commonly known as grouse, turkeys, pheasants, partridges, francolins, and Old World quail. Phasianids are small to large, blunt-winged terrestrial birds. Some species are noted for elaborate courtship displays in which males strut about, displaying colorful plumage and wattles, sometimes accompanied by an expansive spreading of the tail feathers. Some members of this group are important game birds and others, like domestic chickens (derived from Gallus gallus), are bred and reared for human consumption. (Johnsgard, 1999; Madge and McGowan, 2002; Sibley and Ahlquist, 1990; Sibley and Monroe, 1993)

Geographic Range

Phasianids are distributed globally except for polar regions and some oceanic islands. (Johnsgard, 1999)


Phasianids inhabit a diversity of habitats including rainforests, scrub forests, deserts, woodlands, bamboo thickets, cultivated lands, alpine meadows, tundra and forest edges. Some species may be found up to 5000 m above sea level, sometimes more. (Johnsgard, 1983; Johnsgard, 1999; Madge and McGowan, 2002)

Physical Description

Phasianids are small to large, ranging from 500 g to 9.5 kg in weight. Phasianids have short, rounded wings. Tail length is variable by species, appearing almost tailless in some to up to one meter in others. Plumage coloration ranges from cryptic to dark to brightly -patterned. The legs are sturdy and one or more spurs may be present on the tarsus. Toes are short with blunt claws and the hallux is raised. Phasianids may have crests, or bare skin on the head or neck, or wattles. Physical characteristics may be sexually monomorphic or dimorphic depending on species. Some phasianid males are larger, more brightly colored, have longer tails or more elaborate ornamentation than females. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Dickson, 1992; Johnsgard, 1999; Madge and McGowan, 2002)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • sexes shaped differently
  • ornamentation


Phasianid mating systems are variable depending upon species. Some taxa are described as monogamous with the pair bond lasting the duration of the breeding season Generally monogamous species are sexually monomorphic in plumage coloration and size, or slightly dimorphic. Some taxa are polygynous with a pair bond evident until incubation of the eggs. Males of these taxa are often brighter or larger than females. Polygynandry has also been observed in some taxa, with pair bonds evident to copulation. In these taxa males are generally more brightly colored and often somewhat larger than females. In some species males gather on leks to display for females. Courtship behaviors may include tid-bitting (food-showing), strutting, waltzing, and wing-lowering. Sometimes elaborate lateral or frontal displays take place, in which males expose the most colorful parts of their plumage, which may include tail spreading and displaying of swollen wattles. Socially dominant males may copulate more frequently and more successfully than males lower in the social hierarchy. Status in the male hierarchy may be related to size, coloration and relative display characteristics. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Dickson, 1992; Johnsgard, 1983; Madge and McGowan, 2002)

Many phasianids breed seasonally, usually coinciding with springtime for temperate species and the wet season for tropical species. Courtship in some species entails elaborate visual displays in which males may strut about displaying brightly colored plumage or wattles. Sometimes males congregate on leks to display for females. Females appear to select the nest site and likely construct the nest. Nests are usually shallow, often lined with grass and leaves. Nests are often located on the ground, but some species use tussocks or trees. Female nest building behavior entails picking up material and tossing it backwards. Egg coloration varies, and may be white, olive, brown or spotted. Clutch size varies by species, ranging from 2 to 20 eggs. In some species egg-dumping may occur. Incubation begins with the last egg laid and is variable by species, lasting from 18 to 29 days. Chicks are precocial and are covered with down and first primaries or secondaries upon hatching. Chicks can walk, run and forage shortly after hatching, yet stay close to the female during the first week or two. Within two weeks chicks may begin to fly and to disperse, but will still brood with the female. Depending on the species, broods may dissolve sometime between six to sixteen weeks. Adult plumage may be attained at one to two years and sexual maturity from one to five years. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Johnsgard, 1983; Johnsgard, 1999; Madge and McGowan, 2002)

In phasianids, it appears that females alone incubate, beginning with the last egg laid and continuing for 19 to 29 days. Females may brood chicks for as long as 16 weeks. In some species males help rear young by providing defense of nest or brood. In other species males appear to provide no parental care. Parents and offspring of some species join coveys or flocks at the end of the breeding season. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Johnsgard, 1983; Johnsgard, 1999; Madge and McGowan, 2002)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Some species in the wild may live for five to eight years (grouse) whereas some captive phasianids have survived for 30 years (Great Argus). (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Johnsgard, 1983)


Phasianids are generally sedentary although a few species migrate long distances in large flocks. Phasianids are mainly terrestrial ground dwellers that move about mostly by walking, and may fly only short distances. Phasianids forage by digging and scratching the ground. When disturbed some phasianids fly straight up into the air, then fly horizontally away from the source of the disturbance. Other species will move quietly into cover when disturbed. Many species are often seen dust-bathing. Some quail and partridges live in social groups from 4 to 40 individuals. They do not appear to defend territories and monogamous pair bonds may persist year round. Old World quail may be solitary or live in coveys. These taxa are sometimes polygynous, with males defending territories and singing to attract females to nest. During migration Old World quail may travel in large flocks. Pheasant social organization varies. Some species may gather into flocks, which break up into breeding pairs during the breeding season. Others may be found in single sex groups of bachelor males or groups of females defended by one male. Males may defend territories and attract one or more females to breed. Still others may live primarily solitarily, with males defending territories and attracting females to display grounds. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Johnsgard, 1999; Madge and McGowan, 2002)

In some pheasants dominance hierarchies play an important role in organizing social structure. The hierarchy consists of individualized dominant-subordinate relationships. Males generally dominate females. Male and female hierarchies are established via intra-sexual interactions. Higher rank may be associated with greater body and comb size, and success in threat posturing. High-ranking males achieve high mating success relative to lower ranking males. Dominant females appear less sexually receptive. Behavioral displays used to establish hierarchies include: waltzing, wing-flapping, tid-bitting, feather ruffling, head shaking, tail spreading, frontal or bilateral wing lowering, wattle engorgement, or crouching. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Johnsgard, 1983; Johnsgard, 1999; Madge and McGowan, 2002)

Communication and Perception

Visual signaling may occur through morphological features or behavioral interactions. Some phasianids have brightly colored skin on the face or neck, wattles or elaborately structured and brightly colored plumage. Males appear to display these features during courtship and during agonistic male-male interactions. Posturing during threat displays may entail upright lateral or frontal positioning while submission may involve a lowering of the body to the substrate.

Phasianid vocalizations range from the familiar crowing of the domestic fowl to loud screams to clucking or hissing. Crowing may be individually identifiable signals for territory defense or mate attraction. Sustained raucous screams may be given in response to alarm. Threat vocalizations are low in frequency and submission appears to be accompanied by hissing. Clucking may serve as a brood gathering vocalization. Phasianids may also produce acoustic signals by rattling tail feathers or by drumming in flight as known from some grouse. (Johnsgard, 1983; Johnsgard, 1999)

Food Habits

Food habits of phasianids are varied, consisting of a mixture of plant and animal material. Plant materials include: grains, seeds, roots, tubers, nuts, fruits, berries and foliage. Animal materials include: arthropods (Ephemerida, Orthoptera, Trichoptera, Lepidoptera, Coleoptera), mollusks, worms, lizards, and snakes. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Johnsgard, 1983; Johnsgard, 1999)


Mammalian predators of phasianids include: foxes, dogs, cats, opossums, raccoons, skunks, rodents, fishers, and mongooses. Avian predators include raptors and corvids. Reptilian predators are largely snakes. (Dickson, 1992; Johnsgard, 1999)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Phasianids may serve an ecosystem role as seed dispersers or seed predators.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Phasianids are economically important to humans. Phasianids such as grouse, quail, partridges, pheasants and turkeys are important game birds that are hunted regularly in all parts of the world. Some phasianids, such as common fowl (derived from Gallus gallus), have been domesticated and are reared for human consumption of meat and eggs and for "fancy". Most species are hunted primarily for food, although feathers of some species have been collected for ornamentation and clothing manufacture. Sometimes bones have been used in the manufacture of various tools.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Phasianids may cause damage to some agricultural crops (maize, barley, wheat, millet) by foraging for seeds and shoots on cultivated lands. (Campbell and Lack, 1985)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species includes 68 phasianid species. Two species are listed as extinct: double-banded argus (Argusianus bipunctatus) and New Zealand quail (Coturnix novaezelandiae). Habitat loss and hunting are among the major threats identified for this group. (Collar, et al., 1994; IUCN, 2007)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated


Laura Howard (author), Animal Diversity Web, Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

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living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having a worldwide distribution. Found on all continents (except maybe Antarctica) and in all biogeographic provinces; or in all the major oceans (Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


having more than one female as a mate at one time


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


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Haaramo, M. 2004. "Mikko's Phylogeny Archives" (On-line). Field Museum of Natural History, Helsinki, Finland. Accessed May 03, 2007 at

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Johnsgard, P. 1999. The Pheasants of the World Biology and Natural History. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Livezey, B., R. Zusi. 2001. Higher-order phylogenetics of modern Aves based on comparative anatomy. Netherlands Journal of Zoology, 51(2): 179-205.

Madge, S., P. McGowan. 2002. Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse: A guide to the pheasants, partridges, quails, grouse, guineafowl, buttonquails and sandgrouse of the world. London: Christopher Helm.

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Sibley, C., J. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds, A Study in Molecular Evolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Sorenson, M., E. O'Neal, J. Garcia-Moreno, D. Mindell. 2003. More taxa, more characters: the Hoatzin problem is still unresolved. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 20(9): 1484-1499.