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The Reeves's pheasant

Syrmaticus reevesii


The Reeves's pheasant (Syrmaticus reevesii,)

DISTRIBUTION

The Reeves's pheasant is a large pheasant which is endemic to the mountainous areas of central China and is named after the British naturalist John Reeves.

Status of Australian birds

Reeves's Pheasants are not maintained in large numbers in Australian aviculture and unfortunately their numbers are declining.

The bird is threatened in its native habitat due to deforestation, hunting for food and its tail plumes, the Reeves's pheasant is evaluated as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There are thought to be around 2000 birds remaining in the wild.

Colouration

The male’s plumage is generally golden with black markings that form a lace like pattern. They also possess white and red body plumage and brown eyes. The facial and orbital skin is red. The head is white with a black narrow band across its eyes.

A white band runs around the neck and throat below the black band. A further black band lies around the lower neck above the gold orange body colour.

The beaks and legs of both sexes are light grey coloured. The male has an extremely long silvery white tail barred with chestnut brown. Cock birds primary colours are golden bronze on their lower neck back and sides. Some variation occurs between individual birds with some appearing washed out and some displaying dazzling gold feathers with dark black lacing.

The belly and upper legs feathers are black. A fully coloured mature cock bird is guaranteed to attract attention due to both its spectacular colours and the extraordinary long tail. This species is credited with having the longest natural tail feather of any bird species. The tail has been reported to measure up to 2.4 m long. The tail length develops incrementally as the bird matures. The cock’s tail lengthens as the bird each year as the bird matures.

First year cock birds possess tail feathers being approx. 300 to 350 mm long

Second year cock birds possess tail feathers being approx.1000 mm long

Third year cock birds possess tail feathers being approx. 1300 mm long

Fourth and subsequently older birds possess tail feathers varying between 1700mm to 2100 mm long

The female possess a dark brown crown and buff face with dark brown ear coverts which creates a patch behind the eye. The hens are marked with dark and light brown and white markings on their back and wings which lighten toward the belly which is pale buff colouration. The pattern distribution of colour provides excellent camouflage and a hen may flick a few pieces of straw over themselves making themselves effectively camouflaged, rendering them virtually indistinguishable from their background. The female’s tail feathers are mottled light and dark brown and display some barring.

There are no known subspecies, but there is significant plumage variation evident in cock Reeves pheasants. The better coloured variants should be selected for breeding.

Size and weight

Cock birds measure approximately 210cm long and weigh 1.5 kg.

Female birds measure 75cm long and weigh approx. 1 kg

Hybridsation

The Reeves's pheasant will readily hybridise with Ringneck pheasant species. Hybridising of all pheasant species should be discouraged as the genetics of Australian birds are unlikely to be enhanced by importation of any species in the future.

HOUSING

Due to their long tails, housing needs to be sufficiently spacious to enable them to move around freely.

The species are hardy and temperature tolerant, provided a draft free and dry shelter is provided

BREEDING

Reeves's pheasants are reliable parents and will raise young successfully given appropriate and suitable nest locations screened by cover. The hen lays a clutch of 7 to 14 slightly pointed oval pale olive buff coloured eggs which may be laid over an extended duration. Daily removal of eggs for incubation may result in multiple clutches which may also involve indiscriminate depositing of eggs rather than positioning the clutch in a nest location.

Occasionally pale blue eggs may be laid. The incubation period is 25 days. Hens will utilise nest boxes on the ground, particularly if they are surrounded by brush which provides the brooding bird a sense of security.

If nest boxes are unavailable, hens will seek out a protected and secreted location to excavate a shallow depression in earthen floored aviaries which she roughly lines with grasses, feathers and twigs to form a nest in which to lay and incubate a clutch.

The mating display of a mature cock pheasant is a spectacular event to witness. Their mating display generally occurs at dawn and involves the cock bird maintaining his spectacular tail feathers vertically as he rushes frantically around the enclosure. Occasionally the cock bird will maintain an erect stance and “wing whir” throughout the day to court the hen.  Generally the displaying cock bird fails to attract much interest from the hen.

Cock birds are generally not aggressive toward newly hatched chicks but display indifference to the newly hatched chick’s presence.

To ensure breeding success and to increase their numbers, the first clutch may be removed for artificial incubation and the hen permitted to incubate the second repeated clutch of eggs

Cock birds are rarely fertile in their first year.

Reeves chicks are precocious and will roost in elevated locations when less than one week old.

Presentation of drinking water in deep containers presents a drowning threat to young pheasant poults therefore very shallow trays with a layer of small pebbles prevents their accidental drowning.

Breeding SEASON:

The breeding season commences in October and egg laying may continue through to late February.

Reeves's pheasant cock birds are notorious eggs eaters and prevention is better than cure. Provision of a sheltered area for the hen to hide her nest site where the eggs are not visible to the male is recommended. Cock birds of most pheasant species are reluctant to enter heavy cover and no more so than Reeves cock birds due to their tail length.

The habit of egg eating is difficult to resolve and culprit cock birds may have to be removed and reinstated to their enclosure with eggs being collected for artificial incubation in the cock birds absence.

Reeves's pheasant cock birds often become aggressive during breeding season. Their aggressive behaviour is likely to continue once started indefinitely throughout the rest of the year. Prospective inexperienced keepers should be warned to NEVER take their eyes off a cock bird when entering its enclosure. Reeves's cock birds have an extraordinary sense that one is distracted and may exploit that opportunity with a swift and unprovoked attack. Generally their initial attack occurs during the breeding season as the cock bird endeavours to protect his hen.

Artificially incubated and hand reared cock birds are feisty when a few days old and will commence attacks on males of all pheasant species if brooded with them. Artificially brooded cock birds need to be separated and reared in individual cages to prevent their attacks which will result in fatalities if not addressed. Aggression of cock chicks toward other cock birds does not occur if the chicks are parent reared.

In spite of the aggression toward other cock birds, Reeves's pheasant cock birds are generally passive toward their females and will tolerate face preening by the hen.

Reeves's pheasant are hardy birds and their call is unlike other pheasant species in that it is best described as a warbling sound. The call sometimes accompanies the cock bird picking indiscriminately at the ground, such behaviour is a display of aggression toward a perceived threat.

NUTRITION

Their diet consists mainly of seeds, insects and greens and they can be readily maintained on pelletised poultry or grain based mash.

Micro pellets ensure the birds obtain a balanced diet as pheasants often waste unwanted food content when fed mixed grain based mashes. They will opportunistically take live food and readily consume meal worms or fly larvae.  Greens, shell grit and clean water should be available in a shaded location, particularly during hot weather.

Aviculture information

Reeves's pheasants prefer to roost in elevated locations at night and appropriate perches should be available under shelter.

Cock birds develop spurs with their growth commencing in their second year. By their third year cock birds are well equipped and may present a hazard to their handlers.

Reeves's pheasants are not well suited to first time keepers due to the pugnacious nature of cock birds.

Reeves's pheasant numbers have declined in Australia for a number of reasons and the risk of extinction in Australian collections exists if efforts are not made to secure their future.

Urbanisation has diminished the opportunity to keep birds such as pheasants due to reduced allotment sizes.

Bird and poultry keeping prohibition and restriction by some urban councils further restricts their keeping.

Preference for keeping colourful pheasant species such as Golden & Lady Amherst pheasants does not assist ensuring their future.

The aggressive nature of cock Reeves's may be less appealing than more gregarious species.

HOUSING

Female Reeves's pheasants demonstrate excellent camouflage skills in straw or sugar cane mulch litter and demonstrate a more relaxed demeanour when provided some brush cover within their housing which enables them to seek refuge if they feel threatened.

Cock birds become less secretive at the onset of the breeding season which generally commences in October and may continue thru to early January. During the breeding season, cocks display wing whirring which is part of the ritual courtship display. This display characteristic is common across the Lophura pheasant species. Cock birds display confidently and are not intimidated during the courtship period. They may become openly aggressive toward cock birds in adjoining cages irrespective of species. I have experienced cock bird aggression directed at me, from all mature cock birds that I have kept.

AVAILABILITY AND STATUS

The long term status of Reeves's pheasants in Australia is not secure and maintaining a pair of unrelated birds in the collection is important to secure their future. It is hoped fanciers ensure viable breeding populations of Reeves's pheasants are maintained in the future. In the absence of that action, the species is destined to follow the path of Siamese Fireback pheasants which are regrettably extinct in Australian collections.

Reeves's pheasants may be regarded as low maintenance birds. It is not recommended to endeavour to gain their trust as wary birds are generally less aggressive toward their keepers. Reeves's pheasants are vocally subdued and are unlikely to cause disturbance to adjacent neighbours.

The PWSA will conduct a breeding recovery program in the future as we endeavour to secure this beautiful pheasants future in Australian aviculture.

John Urane

June 2019


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