The Lady Amherst’s pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae) is one of the most striking birds on the planet. A member of the Phasianidae family, these long-tailed ground birds are native to forests and woodlands in Southeast Asia but can be found in collections all over the world today. They were named after the wife of a colonial governor and were introduced into parts of England in the mid-1800s.
The male Lady Amherst's pheasant is one of the most unmistakable birds in the animal kingdom. The overall appearance is of a black and white ground bird with a long tail, but closer inspection reveals myriad colors and details.
Their heads are adorned with a red crest and a green crown, while their napes are white, scalloped with black on the end of each feather. The dark throat area and back are highly reflective, showing up iridescent green and blue in good light.
These dark feathers on their wings cover a large yellow patch on the lower back which is bordered by a smaller bright red patch on the rump. The long tail, one of the species’ most characteristic features, is crisscrossed in black and white and includes long orange feathers at its base.
The female Lady Amherst's pheasant is not quite as colorful as her male counterpart but is still a very attractive bird. They have a shorter tail and are a rufous-brown color, strongly barred in black. Juveniles are similar to adult females but paler overall.
Male and female Lady Amherst’s Pheasants
Male Lady Amherst's pheasants are significantly longer than the females, largely due to their impressive tails. They measure 51-68 inches (130-173cm) long from bill to tail tip, of which 33-45 inches (83-115cm) are the tail. Females measure 26-27 inches (66-68cm) in length, of which about half is included in the tail.
Male Lady Amherst's pheasants weigh 24-30oz (675-850g). This is slightly heavier than the females which weigh 22-28oz (624-804g).
The wingspan for both sexes is usually between 27.5 and 33 inches (70-85cm) from wing tip to wing tip.
The male Lady Amherst's pheasant is the more vocal of the sexes. He frequently calls in the early mornings producing loud territorial calls that can be described as ‘hirk hik ik’, or ‘cheek er check’. Females also produce soft clucking sounds and drawn-out, high-pitched peeps.
Close up of a male Lady Amherst’s Pheasant
The Lady Amherst's pheasant is an omnivorous species that feed on various insects and other invertebrates. They also feed on plant material, including young bamboo shoots, fern fronds, seeds, and roots.
Baby Lady Amherst's pheasants are precocial which means they forage and feed themselves. Their mother does lead them to good food sources, however, and they are known to eat various wild fruits.
Male Lady Amherst's Pheasant courting, showing off his beautiful feathers
Lady Amherst's pheasants occur in fairly high altitude, wooded habitats, often with bamboo and thick scrub.
The Lady Amherst's pheasant is native to a fairly small region of Southeast Asia, encompassing parts of Tibet, China, and Myanmar. A feral population has existed in the United Kingdom since the 19th century but has dwindled in recent years.
Lady Amherst's pheasants are ground birds that spend most of their time foraging on the forest and woodland floor. They do ascend into the canopy of trees to roost, however. Lady Amherst's pheasants in China appear to prefer tall coniferous trees for roosting, with males roosting above females.
Lady Amherst's Pheasant in flight
Lady Amherst's pheasants are not known to be particularly rare in their natural range, although the feral population in the United Kingdom will probably be lost soon. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the species is increasing in number in nature reserves in China’s Yunnan province.
Lady Amherst's pheasants are not native to the United States and have not been successfully introduced to the country. They can be seen in many private collections and wildlife parks, however.
A feral population of Lady Amherst's pheasants has existed in the United Kingdom from 1869 until the present day. The birds have become increasingly rare, however, and there are few, if any, individuals left in the wild today.
Lady Amherst's Pheasant in its natural woodland habitat
The oldest Lady Amherst's pheasant on record lived to over 19 years of age, although the average wild bird probably lives between 6 and 10 years. Captive birds kept in good conditions will tend to live a little longer.
Lady Amherst's pheasants are probably hunted by a variety of mammalian, bird, and reptile predators in their native habitat. These birds are also hunted by humans for food, and birds like the red-billed blue-magpie (Urocissa erythroryncha) have been known to feed on their eggs. Foxes are thought to be a significant predator of feral birds in the UK.
Lady Amherst's pheasants are a Class II protected species in China. Globally they are classed as Least Concern.
Lady Amherst's pheasants are not endangered. In fact, their status has improved from Near Threatened in the late 1980s, to Least Concern as of 2004 according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Female (left) and male (right) Lady Amherst's Pheasants
Lady Amherst's pheasants are ground-nesting birds. They construct a shallow, leaf-lined nest under suitable cover like brush or low branches.
Lady Amherst's pheasants lay 6 to 12 off-white to buff-colored eggs. Each egg measures 49.5mm long by 33.5mm across (approximately 2 x 1.3 inches).
Lady Amherst's pheasants’ eggs usually take 24 days to hatch in their nest on the ground. Only the female incubates the eggs, putting her in great danger from hunters and predators.
Lady Amherst's pheasants are polygynous which means each successful male mates with more than one female during the breeding season.
Close up of a male Lady Amherst’s Pheasant
Lady Amherst's pheasants can be quite aggressive towards each other and will resort to physical combat using their claws and beaks. They reportedly mix well with other species in captivity, although some males can become aggressive.
Lady Amherst's pheasants do not undertake long-distance migrations but do show seasonal movements. They are known to be altitudinal migrants, inhabiting the upper slopes in more favorable seasons but moving to lower altitudes for the winter. They have also been observed at lower altitudes during periods of poor weather.
A pair of inquisitive Lady Amherst’s Pheasants looking at a squirrel
Lady Amherst's pheasants were named after the wife of Governor-General of India, William Pitt Amherst. She, Sarah Amherst had these beautiful birds first brought to the United Kingdom in 1828.
Female pheasants are called hens and male pheasants are known as roosters.
There are many interesting collective nouns for a group of pheasants. These include a nye, a bouquet, and a nest of pheasants.
Family:Pheasants and partridges
66cm to 173cm
70cm to 85cm
624g to 850g
A large pheasant that can be found in parts of central and eastern China. It has also been introduced to parts of Europe and can be seen in France, the Czech Republic and less commonly in the UK.
Introduced to the United Kingdom in the 1600s, the Red-legged Partridge is an ornate little gamebird that forages in arable farmland. Millions of birds are released each year for hunting, but these continental natives also occur in self-sustaining naturalised populations.
The pheasant, otherwise known as the Common Pheasant or Ring Necked Pheasant, is a prolific gamebird found throughout the UK and western Europe, with many birds raised in captivity.
Grey Partridges are widespread native gamebirds from Western Europe to Central Asia, although sadly, their population has declined dramatically in the UK and most of their European range. They are often known as the Hungarian Partridge in the New World, where they were first introduced over 200 years ago.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.