Temperament: secretive, nervous
Cost: $60 plus per pair
Lifespan: 15 to 25 years
Recommended for: enthusiasts and poultry keepers with some experience
Pheasants are brilliantly coloured but are also excellently camouflaged so that they disappear when walking among grasses. All pheasants are ground dwellers, fleeing on foot from danger and seeking refuge in the undergrowth. They can fly in short, fast bursts. Females nest almost exclusively on the ground, in well camouflaged, shallow indentations.
For convenience purposes pheasants can be separated into two broad categories:
1. The game or ‘true’ pheasant, which crossbreed easily resulting in many subspecies. Popular examples are the Chinese Ringneck, Blackneck and Mongolian.
2. The ornamental, which includes most of the exotic species. Many ornamentals crossbreed but the progeny are usually infertile. Examples include the Reeves, Lady Amherst, Golden, Silver and Swinhoe’s.
Golden: The most popular game bird, and the most beautiful, also a very hardy species. The Golden is a ‘ruffed pheasant’, the male having a long crest and a large ruff of wide feathers starting from the nape, which can be spread like a fan across either side of the head and neck. The Golden male is brilliantly coloured and the female is buff-coloured.
Silver: The male has glossy blue-black chin, throat, breast and underparts and crest. He has white upperparts and a long tail with a central feather and scarlet face wattles. The male whirrs his wings for alarm or display, and is often depicted on Chinese pottery. The female is olive brown.
Lady Amherst: The male has a metallic green coloured crown and a crest with small, narrow, stiff crimson feathers. The ruff has round white feathers bordered with blue and black. The female is reddish brown and hardy.
Reeves: The Reeve’s pheasant is part of a long tailed genus and males may have tails up to 1.5m long! The male Reeve’s is a mix of yellow, white, black, and brown. The females are reddish brown and buff.
Swinhoe: The male is mostly blackish blue in colour with a large white patch on the upper back. Central tail feathers are white and he has crimson legs. The face wattles comprise four red lobes and he has a short white crest merging with a blue-black crown. The hen is mostly black and brown, with brown eyes, a brown grey face and red wattle and crimson legs.
Siamese Fireback: The cock is mostly grey with a narrow, blue blacktail with a downward curve. The upper back is gold and the head is black, carrying a long, loose crest of steel blue, bare shafted feathers. Facial wattle and legs are scarlet and the eyes are orange red.
Pheasants are very secretive birds and can easily be alarmed. They are generally not vocal but tend to squawk during the breeding season. Pheasants are similar in nature to peafowl, but wilder, and are not as placid as other species of poultry (indeed some species can be quite highly strung). Males can be aggressive and may attack victims with their sharp spurs. Male Reeve’s in particular have a reputation for being bad tempered and are not recommended for beginners or those with little experience keeping pheasants.
Most pheasants come from Asia, but due to the wholesale clearing of naturally timbered area, many species are on the endangered list. The Silver, Golden, Reeves and Lady Amherst pheasants are not included as endangered species.
In England, Pheasants were brought in from China and other parts of Asia, and used in Feudal times as a source of food. Naturally, the consumers were the Lords of the Manors, and not the peasants. Poaching of pheasants and other stock owned by the Lords was rife, and mostly punishable by death. As the rich became richer, the sport of hunting developed, and the animals were hunted merely for the sake of it. Many people poached these animals to eat as a way of objecting to the wasted food.
Health and lifespan
Pheasants are hardy birds, living from 15 years up to 25 years. They can be prone to any poultry diseases such as eye infections and worms. Regular treatment for worms should be given. Vitamins and minerals in the diet will build up their resistance and make them less susceptible to these problems.
Pheasants are omnivorous, eating everything from fruit and vegetables, seeds, grains, roots, bulbs, leaves, insects, grasshoppers, slugs and snails to small lizards.
They need access to live protein (mealworms or clean maggots) as inadequate protein may exacerbate their tendency to cannibalism. Commercial mixed grain rations are available (ensure they are high protein) or use varieties which include a corn base with protein, soya bean, meal and vitamins. Breeders advise against feeding layer mash but turkey ration is acceptable. This can be supplemented with greens, diced apple and grated carrot. Pheasants need a constant supply of clean water. It costs around $3 a week to feed a pair of birds. (A 40 kg bag of turkey ration costs about $25).
It is important to use common sense when breeding pheasants. Aviaries need plenty of brush and bushes as pheasants are secretive nesters and build their nests on the ground. They are not good sitters and eggs may need to be incubated to ensure they hatch. It takes about 23 days for ornamental birds such as Goldens, Amherst, Nepals, Firebacks, Silvers and Reeves) eggs to hatch and about 25 days for the eggs of the game birds (Chinese ringnecks, Mongolian and Blackneck) to hatch.
A pair of pheasants costs upwards of $60 although rarer birds such as Siamese Firebacks can cost up to $800 per pair.
Estimated prices in Australia are listed below (these prices are for young birds, fully coloured breeding pairs cost more).
Ring Necked Pheasants $50/pr
Swinhoe Pheasants $70/pr
Golden Pheasants $60/pr
Nepal Kalij Pheasants $70/pr
Lady Amherst Pheasants $60/pr
Reeves Pheasants $70/pr
Silver Pheasants $60/pr
Siamese Fireback Pheasants $600/pr
Space and exercise
When keeping pheasants, overcrowding should be avoided as they can have a tendency towards cannibalism. An aviary for a pair of pheasants (most are kept in pairs) would need to be at least 6X3m (18×8′) so a large backyard is necessary. The chicken wire should not be too tight as the pheasants can suffer head damage if they hit the wire in their flighty stage. Broom handles are too narrow to use as perches for pheasants as their toes wrap around the perch too much and toes can be lost in severe frost. Treated pine logs of about 75-100mm diameter make excellent perches as do tree branches of similar diameters.
Everyone from beginners to experienced people can breed pheasants. Siamese Firebacks are the top of the range and are the most difficult to breed.
Game pheasants used for eating are a hybrid cross between Mongolians, Blacknecks and Chinese Ringnecks. The crossing produces meatier birds and also increases their egg laying productivity. Pheasants eggs are about half the size of a chicken and are good for cooking.
Some pheasant breeders are concerned about a decline in popularity of the pheasant as population density in the suburbs increases and yard size decreases. Another concern is that many members of Pheasant Associations are giving up their hobby as they age but there are not many youthful Association members to continue breeding this species.
The World Pheasant Association, responsible for conservation interests of pheasants worldwide, is represented in Australia through the Pheasant & Waterfowl Society of Australia.
The Australian chairman is Bob Bradey phone: (02) 9651 5156
There is an annual membership fee of $28 to join the Pheasant & Waterfowl Society of Australia. State contacts regarding membership and purchasing birds are:
QLD – Steven Armstrong 0417 641 759
SA – Ian Siegele (08) 8379 9409
VIC – Bret Henderson 0400 074 048
NSW – Doug Sommerville (02) 4828 6619
WA – Stuart Hearn (08) 9390 2542