An adult male common (or ring-necked) pheasant is one of the most instantly recognisable game birds, with its dark green head and red wattle around the eye. It may come as no surprise that they do not hatch with this rather striking set of feathers. But what do they look like when they first hatch, and how long does it take for this plumage to develop?
Read on to discover more about the early days and weeks of a common pheasant’s life.
Baby pheasants are one of the fastest-growing nestlings, and are ready to leave the nest within the first few hours of hatching. Pheasant chicks are covered in a light down and their eyes are open shortly after emerging from their eggs. Their legs are well developed from birth and they are able to walk from the nest site to begin foraging for food within a few short hours.
New hatchlings are tawny-yellow with darker markings on the back and sides. Their eyes are dark brown, and begin to gradually lighten at around 6 weeks. At first, a pheasant chick’s legs and feet are brown, but these also become a lighter shade of grey as they mature. Flight feathers are present from around 12 to 14 days, and the hatchling down is replaced by brownish feathers that resemble those of an adult female.
It is possible to tell whether a pheasant chick is male or female from about 5 weeks. A pinkish patch becomes increasingly visible on the cheeks of juvenile males, which is where the scarlet wattle will later form. This is absent from females, and is a useful way of distinguishing between the sexes from early on.
A baby pheasant (chick) with an insect in its beak
At around one week old, baby pheasants are around 7.6 cm tall. They grow rapidly and by 15 to 16 weeks have reached the size of fully grown adults.
When a baby pheasant first hatches, it weighs an average 18.5g.
No data is available for the weight of free-ranging pheasant chicks, although research into pheasant chicks raised in captivity states an average weight of 541g at 8 weeks and 900g at 12 weeks.
A female pheasant with her chicks
As juvenile pheasants mature, their plumage becomes increasingly similar to that of an adult female, although young pheasants are smaller and have shorter tails. Juvenile males begin to develop their characteristic bright green feathers at around 10 weeks.
Male (left) and female (right) juvenile pheasants having a dust bath
Like the young of many other bird species, a baby pheasant is known as a chick.
For the first four weeks, baby pheasants eat a diet that mainly consists of large insects, such as mayfly, planthoppers, and grasshoppers, as well as caterpillars and larvae. From week four onwards, a young pheasant’s diet becomes more plant-based, with grain, grasses, buds, berries and farm crops becoming the primary source of food.
A male pheasant looking after the chicks
Only the hen pheasant looks after its young. This includes incubating the eggs before they hatch and then overseeing the hatchlings, while the males protect the territory. Female pheasants lead their young to feeding sites, but they do not actively feed them and the resourceful chicks become independent feeders from a very early age.
Pheasants’ eggs are a light olive-green color, and are roughly half the size of hens’ eggs. They are smooth and matte, rather than glossy.
Pheasant eggs in the nest
The incubation period of a pheasant’s eggs is approximately 22 to 28 days.
Pheasants usually lay between 6 and 18 eggs. Not all of these will successfully hatch at the end of the incubation phase, and it is common for a brood to contain 10-12 hatchlings.
Young pheasant chicks foraging for food
Female pheasants lay their eggs in spring and early summer, typically during a two-week period between April and June, when they tend to produce an egg each day. The incubation period lasts on average between 22 and 28 days, with 23 days being most common.
Pheasants do not actively feed their chicks themselves. Instead, on leaving the nest a matter of hours after hatching, young pheasants follow the hen to nearby feeding grounds where they quickly learn to forage for their own food.
Pheasant chick amongst the grass
Hatchlings leave the nest within hours of birth, and are accompanied by their mother to forage for food. Chicks they do not tend to return to the nest after leaving; this is largely because pheasant nests are not especially well-built or durable structures.
Instead, the female will gather her chicks and lead them to any form of vegetation cover at night, and in cold or wet weather, and continue to brood them to keep them safe, warm, and dry until they are several weeks old.
Young pheasants stay with their mother until they reach 10-12 weeks of age. At this point, they become independent although they may accompany females to wintering grounds and become part of the loose flock associated with a particular territory.
A young pheasant’s flight feathers develop during its second week of life, meaning that pheasant chicks can fly short distances from a very early age.
As with adult pheasants, flight is not the preferred way of moving for baby pheasants, who can cover much greater distances on foot.
Close up of a juvenile male ring-necked pheasant
In order to successfully care for baby pheasants, it’s vital to fully research their nutrition, temperature, and enclosure requirements. Baby pheasants need to have enough space to roam freely, without being overcrowded with other chicks.
A juvenile female common pheasant
Baby pheasants need a diet that is high in protein. In the wild, their initial diet will be animal based for the first four weeks, with grubs, insects, caterpillars, and worms forming the largest share of their food source. From this point on, baby pheasants consume more grain, cereal crops, buds, and wild berries.
Pheasants bred or raised in captivity can be given a special starter food rich in protein for the first six weeks, and then like their free-ranging counterparts, progress onto a more plant-focused diet, with berries, grain, and seeds.
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