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.
As with most gamebirds the pheasant is a short billed, short legged bird with the adult male far surpassing the female in looks and physical appearance. The adult male comes in two variants a pale or dark. Both variants have a distinctive small purple head and narrow neck with a green and black crown and small black ‘ear tufts’. Around the eye there is a bold red wattle or comb which is a fleshy protuberance spreading down towards the cheek. At the base of the neck there is a thin white ring separating the head from the chest and back of the bird. The chest colour is predominantly bronze with dark or black spots and orange copper flanks. It has a long stiff brown tail with black streaks. The scapulars which are the feathers that cover the base of the wing on the upper side of the body are a pale buff or brown with the upperwing coverts being pale grey. The rump is a light blue grey. The bill is short and curved with a yellow or light brown colour and the legs are brown
The adult female has a plain brown body mottled with black markings and no wattle. Juveniles are similar to the female although duller with a shorter tail.
Female and Male Common Pheasant
During the shooting season in the UK which falls annually between October 1st and February 1st over 35,000,000 birds are released in organised shoots.
In flight the male will often issue a clucking sound but the cock pheasant’s usual call is a loud double syllable ‘kerr – kok’, often accompanied by a short frantic burst of wing beats which can produce a whirring noise.
Male Common Pheasant
Pheasants are predominantly ground feeders foraging for insects and worms in addition to berries, fruit, seeds and grass.
It is believed that pheasants were introduced into the UK in Norman times and there are few populations of wild birds to be seen as the vast majority are bred in captivity. Regions, where wild pheasants can still be spotted, are isolated areas of north east, central and southern England, Kent and some Scottish lowlands. Pheasants prefer open countryside adjacent to woodland fringes, hedgerows, arable land and small woods. It is likely that many sightings of pheasants are of those released or escaped captively bred specimens.
Common Pheasant with spread wings
Pheasants are common throughout the UK countryside apart from north and west Scotland. They spend most of their life on the ground preferring to run away from danger unless startled when they may take flight, but generally only for very short distances. They have strong legs and a distinctive gait akin to a swaggering strutting motion and are able to run extremely fast and for long distances. They can easily be identified by their call as well as their appearance and in flight the long trailing ‘split’ tail of the male or pointed tail of the female can extend beyond the bird’s wingspan.
Preferred nesting sites are on the ground under hedgerows or other low cover or in long grass. The female makes a hollow or scrape generally unlined in which she lays one brood of between around 7 to 15 matt olive brown eggs between April to July. Incubation is by the female alone and lasts for approximately twenty six days with the chicks fledging after about two weeks.
Pheasant nest with eggs
During the breeding season cock birds often have a harem of hens who they mate with and protect fiercely from other males. It is not unknown for these harems to consist of ten hens which the cock confines to his own distinct territorial area.
Whilst wild birds have a life expectancy of up to seven years it is generally acknowledged that the majority of the UK’s pheasant population are not normally expected to survive past the age of one year due in the main to organised shooting.