The common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), also known as a ring-necked pheasant, is a gamebird, found across northern Asia, throughout Europe, and as an introduced species in the United States.
Males are a familiar sight in farmer’s fields and country lanes, with dark green heads, red wattle around the eyes, and a distinctive white band around the neck. Females pheasants are less instantly recognisable, and are considerably different in appearance.
Our complete guide to female pheasants offers information on all you need to know about these well-camouflaged gamebirds.
Close up of a female pheasant feeding in the wild
Telling a male pheasant from a female is simple, and can be done with confidence even from some distance away. Males have the distinctive dark green head, red facial wattle, white ring around the neck, and rich chestnut plumage, as well as a long, flat, barred tail. Females, in contrast, are a dull, mottled buff-brown in colour, and are smaller in length.
From a distance, female pheasants look plain brown and rather dull, but on closer inspection, their plumage is a mix of mottled dark brown patches on lighter buff-brown feathers, with white detailing around the edges.
Female pheasants have darker feathers around the crown and forehead, with a slight eye stripe. They do not have the distinctive ring-necked marking or scarlet facial wattle that helps to easily identify a male pheasant.
Females also lack the ear tufts seen on the sides of male pheasants’ heads. Their body feathers range from light chestnut on the back to a darker, speckled chin, with a pale buff-brown breast. Their long, flat buff tails are marked with lighter brown bars.
An adult female pheasant’s eyes are a shade of yellowish-brown to pale hazel, and their beaks are mid-brown. Their legs are greyish-brown.
Close up of a female common pheasant
Female pheasants are known as hens, while males are known as cocks.
Female pheasants are smaller in size and lighter in weight than males, and they also have shorter tails and a smaller wingspan. Females measure between 50 and 65 cm (20 to 25.6 in) in length, of which 20 cm (8 in) is their long tail. Males can be up to 25 cm (10 in) longer than females, with a greater wingspan and an even longer tail.
Female (left) and male (right) ring-necked pheasants
As well as being strikingly dissimilar in appearance, male and female pheasants display a number of differences in behaviour too, with females taking on a quieter, less dominant role than their showy male counterparts.
Despite being less vocal and ostentatious than males, female pheasants are sociable birds within flocks, while males are more solitary and more territorial.
In contrast to the loud, shrieking calls of male cock pheasants, female pheasants are rather quiet, making generally weaker and lower-pitched sounds.
Despite the lack of volume, female pheasants do use a range of communication calls for different situations. A low, peeping sound serves as a caution to alert chicks when a predator approaches, and prompts them to scatter and take cover.
A soft cry is given as a flight call, when a female pheasant is alarmed and takes to the air in distress. A higher-pitched distress call warns other nearby pheasants of danger nearby.
Female pheasant walking in the grass, foraging for food
Female pheasants choose their nest sites, and construct them alone. These are simple shallow dents in the ground known as ‘scrapes’, protected by undergrowth. Male pheasants are known for surrounding themselves with a ‘harem’ of hens during the breeding season, all of which will construct nests fairly close together within the male’s territory. The male will then protect the brooding pheasants and their eggs during incubation, but does not share incubation duties.
During the incubation period, which lasts for anything from 22 to 28 days, male pheasants do not bring food to the brooding female. Instead, it is necessary for the female pheasant to leave the nest several times a day to feed herself, most frequently in the early morning and late afternoon.
Once the chicks hatch, the female is solely responsible for caring for them until they reach independence. The hen will bring her chicks to a feeding site, where they forage for food themselves rather than relying on the female for help. At night, the female will gather her chicks and brood them to keep them warm, dry and safe for at least the first few weeks of their life. After remaining close to the mother for the first 10-12 weeks, pheasant chicks are then ready to live independently.
At the end of the breeding season, adult pheasants tend to gather into communal flocks, where females may display aggression towards other females when forming harems.
A breeding pair of pheasants
Incubation is the sole responsibility of the female pheasant. Once the eggs have hatched, the chicks are dependent on the female to keep them safe and warm until they reach independence. Males play a nominal role in protecting females, but are not typically active participants in the rearing of chicks, although it has been recorded in rare cases.
Female pheasants can fly, and will fly if suddenly startled, but only for short distances. However, they prefer to walk or run, and can reach speeds of up to 8 to 10 miles per hour on foot. Both female and male pheasants spend the majority of their lives on the ground, foraging for food and only take to the air when absolutely necessary.
In flight, a pheasant’s average speed is between 38 and 48mph (61 - 77km/h), reaching up to 60mph (96km/h) if they are being chased by a predator.
Female pheasant (hen) in flight
Female pheasants are a mixed shade of buff-brown. Individual feathers have darker brown markings in the middle, with lighter shades around the edges, giving them an all-over mottled effect. Their plumage enables them to camouflage themselves well against the hedgerows and undergrowth in which they forage for food and make their nests.
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