Pheasants are large gamebirds from the family Phasianidae that also contains turkeys, chickens, quails and other landfowl. There are a remarkable 50 or so species of pheasants distributed throughout much of the world and many more subspecies.
Pheasants spend most of their time on the ground and are often seen perusing fields and hedgerows looking for food, so what do pheasants eat?
All species of pheasants are omnivores that feed almost solely on foods foraged from the ground. Their diets are flexible, but most pheasants eat berries, seeds, nuts, grains, shoots and roots, as well as many types of worms, insects and arthropods. Some pheasants also hunt small animals such as rodents and small lizards.
Common Pheasant foraging for food on a newly ploughed field
A pheasant’s typical diet will vary throughout the year, and they tend to eat a higher percentage of insects and meat in the summer and a higher percentage of seeds and vegetation in the winter when insects are less abundant.
Pheasants are diverse and hardy birds that occupy every region, from the mountains of the Himalayas to the tropical rainforests of South America. As such, their diets do vary hugely depending on the region, but all pheasants are somewhat flexible omnivores that eat both plant matter and meat in the form of insects and small animals.
Read on to learn more about the diet and feeding habits of this wonderful bird!
There are over 50 species of pheasants and many more subspecies. The most common pheasant is the Common pheasant, also called the Ring-necked pheasant, which is distributed across much of Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Common pheasants have an omnivorous diet that consists of plant matter in the form of fruit, seeds, mast, roots, berries and grains and meat in the form of ants, leatherjackets, grubs and larvae, caterpillars, worms, grasshoppers, spiders and many other arthropods.
Close up of a male ring-necked pheasant
The Common pheasant also eats small animals such as lizards, small birds and rodents, including mice, rats, voles and shrews.
Other species of pheasants have similar omnivorous diets to the Common pheasant, no matter what region they’re from:
Insects are numerous throughout the summer months and pheasants, like many other birds and animals, look to take advantage of their increased numbers.
In the summer, pheasants consume more insects in the form of larvae, grasshoppers, worms, spiders and practically any other insect they can get their beak into.
Pheasant diets are not just confined to insects and vegetation. They’re actually quite good at hunting snakes and small animals such as rodents, stalking them quietly before ambushing them with their long necks. In fact, in the UK, pheasants pose a serious threat to native adder snake populations.
Pheasant pecking for insects from a fallen log
As insect and animal life is less abundant in the winter - pheasants instead turn to a diet rich in seeds, grains, nuts and plant vegetation. Pheasants will spend much of their day foraging from under leaves and vegetation in search of insects or other high-fat, high-protein foods.
Male and female pheasants searching for food in winter
Pheasants kept as gamebirds are fed gamebird feed consisting of around 24 – 28% protein. Growing pheasants in the juvenile stage require around 0.9kg (2lb) of feed a day, reducing to approximately 0.4kg (1lb) when they’re fully grown.
Pheasants are ground-dwelling birds that spend very little time flying or perching in trees. They forage food entirely from the ground, walking through the undergrowth whilst pecking and plucking at the vegetation.
Pheasants forage in fields and grasslands, hayfields, woodlands and shrubland or brush.
Female Pheasant (Hen), feeding from the ground
Pheasants consume more food in the breeding season or when they’re growing as active juveniles. When food is not particularly abundant, pheasants will likely spend a good portion of their day foraging the undergrowth.
Baby pheasants are not typically fed by their parents like other birds are. Once hatched, the hatchlings will eat and absorb the leftovers of their yolk sac, which sustains them until they’re able to walk.
Once they’re up on two feet, baby pheasants spend much of their early days following their mother around, copying her techniques for foraging foods from the local area.
Generally speaking, baby pheasants in the wild consume mostly soft insects such as grubs, larvae and caterpillars - this is most probably can’t digest harder foods until they’re older.
Close up of a Pheasant chick
Pheasants are generally nervous and secretive birds that avoid human contact, but they do roam into human settlements in search of food. Where there are pheasants in the local area, they can be attracted with a wide variety of bird feed, including common bird seed mixes and dried mealworms.
Bear in mind that pheasants feed on the ground, so they won’t be able to feed on a bird feeder or table. Be aware that once they’re done eating what you’ve put out for them, they’ll probably move on to eat plants from your garden!
Providing fresh water can also help attract pheasants and other wild birds.
So long as you feed wild pheasants appropriately then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t feed them at all.
Wild pheasants might be thankful for a top-up to their regular diets during the colder winter months.
Pheasant eating bird seeds from a homemade feeder
Wild pheasants can be fed a variety of seeds, grains, leafy greens and dried insects such as mealworms.
Here are some foods that wild pheasants thrive off:
Pheasants are flexible eaters, but some basic rules apply. Never feed pheasants (or other animals) mouldy bread or other spoiled food. High-sugar or high-salt foods should also be avoided, as should foods that pose a choking hazard, like bones.
Bread is not ideal either - whilst it isn’t dangerous to birds, it’s more that it has a very poor nutritional profile.
Female pheasant eating a mixture of seeds from a feeder
Pheasants solely drink water, and water is all they need. Pheasants are relatively large birds and require quite a lot of water in hot weather.
Pheasants are slow, ground-dwelling birds, and that makes them reasonably vulnerable to an array of predators. Whilst fully-grown adult pheasants are pretty large - too large for many smaller carnivorous animals to target - they are still attacked by foxes, racoons, badgers and large raptors like eagles and some hawks.
Young pheasants are predated by a much larger range of animals, including skunks, mink, weasels, stoats, ferrets, snakes and other lizards and birds such as hawks, corvids and owls.
We’re missing a big one here, though, as the biggest consumer of pheasants are humans! Whilst pheasant meat is not as popular as it once was, it’s still widely consumed throughout the world, and millions of pheasants are bred to be shot and killed as gamebirds each year.
Pheasant in flight
Pheasants consume a wide range of conventional bird foods, including bird seed mixes, suet, fat balls and mealworms. They’ll also eat roots, shoots and insects from the grass or the earth - and they‘ll rummage through your flower beds to get to them!
Pheasants tend to hide in the day and forage in the early morning, dusk or evening. You can see a pheasant at practically any time of day or night, though.
Yes, but eating too much bread is bad for any and all birds. Bread is nutritionally incomplete and also very filling - it doesn’t give birds what they need to survive and thrive. If you’re feeding bread to birds, make sure it’s wholemeal or seeded bread and don’t overindulge them.
Male and female ring-necked pheasants plucking food from the ground
Pheasants eat berries, especially those which are easy to access from the ground.
Yes, pheasants reportedly really enjoy raisins and sultanas.
Pheasants do not have a reputation for eating ticks and may actually carry the bacteria associated with Lyme disease.
Pheasants will certainly eat mice if given half a chance - they are omnivores after all. Pheasants also eat other rodents such as voles and shrews.
Male pheasant calling
There is little evidence to suggest that pheasants consume slugs or molluscs. They instead prefer insects and worms.
Pheasants are omnivores, so they eat meat as well as plant vegetation. Pheasants consume meat in the form of insects, worms and small animals like lizards and rodents.
Pheasants do eat peanuts and reportedly really enjoy them. Pet pheasants are often fed peanuts and other nuts and seeds.
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