Phasianus colchicuscommon pheasant(Also: ring-neck pheasant)

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Geographic Range

Phasianus colchicus is a non-migratory species native to Eurasia. The native range extends from the Caspian Sea, east across central Asia to China, and includes Korea, Japan, and former Burma. It was introduced to Europe, North America, New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii. In North America, Phasianus colchicus populations have been established on mid-latitude agricultural lands from southern Canada to Utah, California to New England states, and south to Virginia. (Federation of Alberta Naturalists, 2007; Giudice and Ratti, 2001; Pratt, et al., 1944; Whitfield, 1984)

Habitat

Common pheasants occupy grassland and farmland habitats. They prefer relatively open cover, such as grass and stubble fields and are found in habitats with grass, ditches, hedges, marshes, and tree stands or bushes for cover. They are generalists occupying a wide range of habitat types except areas with dense rainforest, alpine forests, or very dry places. This flexibility is exemplified in their successful introduction to tropical habitats in Hawaii where only heavy precipitation and high altitudes pose the greatest habitat limitation.

Open water is not a requirement for Phasianus colchicus, but most populations are found where water is present. In drier habitats, common pheasants obtain water from dew, insects, and succulent vegetation.

Common pheasants occupy agricultural areas but the movement towards increasingly large agricultural operations is detrimental to habitat. Land-use transitions to larger operations include a loss of field-edge habitat (fewer fencerows), removal of bushes, burning of marshes, a trend towards monoculture, suburban sprawl, and commercial development. This habitat degradation leads to reduction of cover habitat and fewer small bodies of water for Phasianus colchicus. (Federation of Alberta Naturalists, 2007; Giudice and Ratti, 2001; Schwartz and Shwartz, 1951; Whitfield, 1984)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 3353 m
    0.00 to 11000.66 ft

Physical Description

Common pheasants are medium-sized birds with deep, pear-shaped bodies, small heads and long, thin tails. They are sexually dimorphic, with males being more colorful and larger than females. Males have spectacular, multi-colored plumage with long, pointed, barred tails and fleshy red eye patches. Their heads range in color from glossy dark green to iridescent purple. Many subspecies have a distinctive white collar around their neck which gives them their ‘ring-necked’ name. Female Phasianus colchicus are less colorful. They have buff brown, mottled plumage and, like males, have long pointed tails, although they are shorter than those of males.

There are two major groupings of subspecies within Phasianus colchicus. The colchicus group, or ring-necked pheasants, are native to mainland Eurasia. They are barred, with coppery red or yellow on their mantle and underparts, and have the prominent neck ring. Thirty-one subspecies are listed under this grouping. The other grouping of subspecies is the versicolor group, which lacks the neck ring and has green on their neck, breast, and upper belly. This group is native to Japan and was introduced to Hawaii. There are three subspecies in the versicolor group. (Delacour, 1977; Giudice and Ratti, 2001; Greenberg, 2002; Johnsgard, 1975; Johnsgard, 1986)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • ornamentation
  • Average mass
    1263 g
    44.51 oz
  • Range length
    42.5 to 53.6 cm
    16.73 to 21.10 in
  • Range wingspan
    23.5 to 25.8 cm
    9.25 to 10.16 in

Reproduction

Common pheasants are polygynous, with a single male having a harem of several females. Common pheasants breed seasonally. In early spring (mid-March to early June) males establish breeding or crowing territories. These territories are relative in terms of other males’ territories and do not necessarily have definitive boundaries. On the other hand, females are not territorial. Within their breeding harem, they may show a dominance hierarchy. These harems last through the courting and nesting period and may have 2 to 18 females. Each female typically has a seasonally monogamous relationship with one territorial male. In early spring, males establish a harem by crowing and wing-whirring displays. Crowing is the distinctive, loud korrk-kok call of males which they use to maintain their territory. This may be preceded by an almost inaudible wing-flap, after which the male may perform a brief but vigorous wing-whirring. Physical interactions between competing males may include flying at each other breast-to-breast, biting wattles, or high leaps with kicks toward the other’s bill. Males who establish breeding territories earlier in the season tend to be dominant over males establishing territory later. Mate selection by females is dependent on a few factors. Female common pheasants tend to choose dominant males who can, for example, offer protection. Studies have found that females prefer long tails in males and that the length of ear tufts and presence of black points on the wattle also influences female choice. The general brightness of a male's plumage is not a factor, perhaps because brightness is not correlated to testosterone levels or dominant behaviors in male common pheasants.

Males have different courtship displays which elicit different responses in females. One study found that feeding rituals in males attracted female common pheasants, while lateral display courtship behaviors in males aroused females for copulation. In a lateral display, the male approaches the female, crossing slowly in a semicircle in front of her with his head low, the nearer wing drooped and his wattle erect. This lateral display often precedes copulation but later in the season a male may simply pursue and attempt to mount a female. (Giudice and Ratti, 2001; Greenberg, 2002; Johnsgard, 1975; Johnsgard, 1986; Mateos and Carranza, 1995; Mateos and Carranza, 1999; Whitfield, 1984)

Nesting begins just before females start to lay eggs. The female will scrape a shallow depression in the ground in a well covered area, lining it lightly with readily available plant material. She will typically lay one egg a day until 7 to 15 eggs have been laid. Larger clutches of eggs arise when two or more hens lay in the same nest. The female will remain close to the nest, incubating the eggs for most of the day, leaving in the morning and evening to feed. Chicks are precocial at hatching, completely covered with down and with their eyes open. They are able to immediately begin walking and following the hen to sources of food; they are largely self-feeding. (Giudice and Ratti, 2001; Grzimek, et al., 2003; Johnsgard, 1986; Whitfield, 1984)

  • Breeding interval
    Ring-necked pheasants breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    The ring-necked pheasant breeding season extends from mid-March to June.
  • Range eggs per season
    7 to 15
  • Average eggs per season
    10
  • Range time to hatching
    23 to 28 days
  • Average time to hatching
    24 days
  • Range fledging age
    7 to 12 days
  • Range time to independence
    70 to 80 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Most parental investment in common pheasants is by females. After building her nest and laying the eggs, the female is responsible for incubating them. Incubation takes approximately 23 days after the final egg is laid. When the chicks hatch, they are cared for solely by the hen. They are precocial when they hatch, covered with down, eyes open, and legs developed. They are able to immediately begin following the hen to sources of food and the young chicks will feed themselves. The hen’s main role is to lead her chicks to food after hatching. By about 12 days, young are able to fly and typically remain with the hen for 70 to 80 days before becoming independent. (Greenberg, 2002; Johnsgard, 1986; Whitfield, 1984)

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

Lifespan/Longevity

Chick survival is influenced by hatch date, mass at birth, and habitat type. Many young don’t live beyond autumn. Annual survival rate of adult females is 21 to 46%, while it is only 7% for males. In some areas the reduced survival rate of males can be accounted for by the hunting of male common pheasants by humans. Nearly all wild birds die by age three. Adult mortality is caused by predation, agricultural activities, exposure to pesticides and toxins, and accidents with motorized vehicles. (Giudice and Ratti, 2001; Martin, et al., 1996)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    11 to 18 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 years

Behavior

Common pheasants are social birds. In the autumn, they flock together, sometimes in large groups in areas with food and cover. Usually the core home range is smaller in the winter than during the nesting season. Flocks formed in the winter may be mixed or single-sexed and may have up to 50 pheasants. A male is typically found with a harem of females during the breeding season. Common pheasants are mostly sedentary, but they may display some migratory tendencies based on food and cover availability. Migratory movements are observed in northern populations where cold weather forces birds to find milder conditions. Group dispersal in early spring is gradual rather than abrupt, with males leaving first.

Common pheasants spend most of their time on the ground and roost both on the ground and in trees. They are swift runners and walk with a “strutting gait.” While they are feeding, they hold their tail horizontal; while they run, they hold it on a forty-five degree angle. Common pheasants are strong fliers; they are able to flush nearly vertical in take-off. Males often emit a croaking call during take-off. They take flight when threatened.

Common pheasants use dust bathing, involving sweeping sand and dirt particles into their plumage by bill-raking, ground scratching, or wing shaking. This behavior helps to remove dead epidermal cells, excess oil, old feathers, and the sheaths of new feathers. (Applegate, et al., 2002; Giudice and Ratti, 2001; Johnsgard, 1986)

  • Range territory size
    0.8 to 3.2 km^2

Home Range

Both male and female common pheasants have larger home ranges during the nesting season than when wintering. During nesting season, females typically have larger home ranges than males. In Missouri, wintering home ranges of some hens were reported to be 63.7 hectares, while in Maryland they were reported to be 49.7 hectares. In Iowa home ranges of both 76 and 96 hectares were found. These differences may be influenced by differences in weather, land cover and usage, and population densities. (Applegate, et al., 2002; Smith, et al., 1999)

Communication and Perception

When alarmed, common pheasants make distinctive hoarse croaking notes. In males, this is a loud, piercing, double squawk ko-ork kok, with a sharp staccato on the last syllable. This crowing call is also made when males are establishing their territory. In agricultural areas, males may be heard crowing at dusk, dawn, and during the mating season. This call is very similar to the familiar call of a rooster and can travel up to a mile. Female calls tend to be more subtle and less likely to be audible. (Giudice and Ratti, 2001; Johnsgard, 1975)

Food Habits

Common pheasants are dietary generalists, eating a wide variety of plant matter, such as grain, seeds, shoots, and berries, as well as insects and small invertebrates. Common pheasants are mostly ground dwelling and scratch for food in the undergrowth with their bill. They usually forage in the early morning and evening. Important agricultural crops eaten by common pheasants are corn (Zea mays), wheat (Triticum), barley (Hordeum vulgare), and flax (Lineum) Weed seeds they eat in North America are foxtail (Setaria lutescens), ragweed (Ambrosia) and sunflower seeds (Helianthus annus). Wild grape (Vitis), apples (Malus), and blackberries (Rubus) are some fruits eaten. They also eat grasshoppers (Orthoptera), caterpillars (Lepidoptera), crickets (Gryllidae), and snails (Gastropoda). (Dale, et al., 1956; Giudice and Ratti, 2001)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Predation

Adult common pheasants may be preyed on either while on the ground or in flight. Some of their behavioral responses to danger include retreating into cover or hiding. They also may fly, crouch, or run. Hens facing a predator may display a broken wing in an attempt to draw their predator away from their nest or they may just try to sit very still. When chicks in a brood are preyed on, often more than one is taken at a time. Exposure to extreme weather is also attributed to chick mortality. Game hunting by humans is a significant predation concern for male pheasants in some areas. Common pheasants are particularly vulnerable to predation during nesting. Studies have shown that control of nest predators, particularly red foxes, can be a significant pheasant conservation tool. Additionally, increased pheasant predation rates are linked closely to increased rates of habitat destruction. This may be because habitat degradation renders prey more vulnerable to predators. Studies have also been conducted to determine whether certain subspecies have higher survival rates in specific habitats. One particular study focused on the Sichuan subspecies of common pheasants, which nest in woody cover, a trait which makes them less susceptible to agricultural land degradation. However, this study found that Sichuan hens had no survival advantage over hens of other subspecies. Much information on predation in common pheasants is known from North American populations, where they are an important game species. (Draycott, et al., 2008a; Giudice and Ratti, 2001; Shipley and Scott, 2006)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Common pheasants play a role as prey for larger carnivores and as an insectivore, helping to control insect populations. They may also disperse seeds through their seed predation. They may negatively affect greater prairie chickens (Tympanuchus cupido) and gray partridges (Perdix perdix) through nest parasitism, habitat competition, transmission of disease, and aggressive behaviour. A study in Kansas reported nest parasitism of lesser prairie chickens by common pheasants. This rate of nest parasitism appeared to be density-dependent, increasing as nest site availability decreased. Other studies have investigated the negative impact of common pheasants on greater prairie chickens through nest parasitism. Pheasant eggs hatch earlier than prairie chicken eggs. The rate of embryo mortality or nest abandonment increases in parasitized prairie-chicken nests.

The release of common pheasants into woodland areas for game shooting is common. One study in Britain looked into the impact of this practice. They found that there was a neutral or positive impact of common pheasants on vegetation and bird communities. However, it is important to note that this study was done in pheasant-managed woodland areas and this management practice may have been more beneficial than the presence of pheasants themselves. (Aldous and Alexander, 2008; Draycott, et al., 2008b; Hagen, et al., 2002; Westemeier, et al., 1998)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Borrelia burgdorferi
  • vector ticks (lxodes ricinus)
  • fleas (Siphonaptera)
  • lice (Mallophaga)
  • tapeworms (Railletina)
  • caecal worms (Heterakis gallinarum)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The predominant benefit of Phasianus colchicus to humans is as an upland game bird. (Federation of Alberta Naturalists, 2007; Greenberg, 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Common pheasants are highly susceptible to Newcastle disease, a significant disease in birds because of high mortality rates in those affected. Disease outbreaks have economic implications including trade embargos and restrictions of poultry sales in areas of outbreak. Common pheasants can carry Newcastle disease and spread it to other wild and domestic birds, which can be potentially negative to humans. (Aldous and Alexander, 2008)

Conservation Status

Common pheasants are widely distributed and their conservation status is of least concern. (Giudice and Ratti, 2001; Giudice and Ratti, 2001)

Contributors

Charley Switzer (author), University of Alberta, Augustana Campus, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects, Doris Audet (editor), University of Alberta, Augustana Campus, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Australian

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

World Map

Nearctic

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.

World Map

Palearctic

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

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

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.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

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.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

introduced

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

iteroparous

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).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

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

omnivore

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

oviparous

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

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

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.

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

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).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

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

tropical

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.

savanna

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.

visual

uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

Aldous, E., D. Alexander. 2008. Newcastle disease in pheasants (Phasianus colchicus): A review. The Veterinary Journal, 175/2: 181-185.

Applegate, R., B. Flock, P. Gipson, M. McCoy, K. Kemp. 2002. Home ranges of ring-necked pheasants in northwestern Kansas. Prairie Naturalist, 34/1-2: 21-29.

Dale, F., J. Lauckhart, J. McKean. 1956. Pheasants in North America. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: The Stackpole Company.

Delacour, J. 1977. The Pheasants of the World. Surrey, England: Spur Publications.

Draycott, R., A. Hoodless, R. Sage. 2008. Effects of pheasant management on vegetation and birds in lowland woodlands. Journal of Applied Ecology, 45/1: 334-341.

Draycott, R., A. Hoodless, M. Woodburn, R. Sage. 2008. Nest predation of Common Pheasants Phasianus colchicus. Ibis, 150/1: 37-44.

Federation of Alberta Naturalists, 2007. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta: a second look. Altona, Manitoba, Canada: Federation of Alberta Naturalists.

Giudice, J., J. Ratti. 2001. "The Birds of North America Online" (On-line). Ring-necked Pheasant. Accessed September 14, 2009 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/572/articles/introduction.

Greenberg, R. 2002. Ring-necked Pheasant. Pp. 185 in J Greenberg, J Hamilton, eds. Birds of Canada. Kyodo, Singapore: Dorling Kindersley.

Grzimek, B., G. Archibald, C. Berger. 2003. Fowls and pheasants (phasianidae). Pp. 433-439 in M Hutchins, W Bock, J Jackson, eds. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, 2nd Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.

Hagen, C., B. Jamison, R. Robel, R. Applegate. 2002. Ring-necked Pheasant Parasitism of Lesser Prairie Chicken Nests in Kansas. The Wilson Bulletin, 114/4: 522-524.

Hoodless, A., K. Kurtenbach, P. Nuttall, S. Randolph. 2002. The impact of ticks on pheasants territoriality. Oikos, 96/2: 245-250.

Johnsgard, P. 1975. North American Game Birds of Upland and Shoreline. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

Johnsgard, P. 1986. The Pheasants of the World. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Martin, P., D. Johnson, D. Forsyth. 1996. Effects of grasshopper-control insecticides on survival and brain acetylcholinesterase of pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) chicks. Environmental Toxicology and Chemisty, 15/4: 518-524.

Mateos, C., J. Carranza. 1999. Effects of male dominance and courtship display on female choice in the ring-necked pheasant. Behavioral Ecology and Sociology, 45/3-4: 235-244.

Mateos, C., J. Carranza. 1995. Female choice for morphological features of male ring-necked pheasants. Animal Behaviour, 49/3: 737-748.

Pratt, D., P. Bruner, D. Berrett. 1944. The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Schwartz, C., E. Shwartz. 1951. An Ecological Reconnaissance of the Pheasants in Hawaii. The Auk, 68/3: 281-314.

Shipley, K., D. Scott. 2006. Survival and Nesting Habitat use by Sichuan and Ring-necked Pheasants Released in Ohio. Ohio Journal of Science, 106/3: 78-85.

Smith, S., N. Stewart, E. Gates. 1999. Home Ranges, Habitat Selection and Mortality of Ring-necked Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) in North-central Maryland. The American Midland Naturalist, 141/1: 185-197.

Westemeier, R., J. Buhnerkempe, W. Edwards, J. Brawn, S. Simpson. 1998. Parasitism of Greater Prairie-Chicken Nests by Ring-necked Pheasants. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 62/3: 854-863.

Whitfield, P. 1984. Pheasants. Pp. 230-231 in P Whitfield, J Johnson, eds. Macmillan Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company.