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Phasianus colchicus

The Common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is frequently known as the ring-necked pheasant or just pheasant.  This bird is native to Asia and has been introduced to many countries.  It is possibly the best-known game bird internationally and is raised commercially for the game bird meat trade and for recreational hunting.  Their tendency to explode into flight, when disturbed, creates the attraction for the hunting fraternity.

The original natural range of this bird extended from the Black and Caspian Seas to China, inhabiting woodlands, farming areas, scrub and wetlands.  There are 30 subspecies, but the birds that are kept in Australia are more than likely hybrids between several subspecies.  This is not to say that it is possible to breed a pheasant true to type.

Seasonal behaviour

In autumn and winter, pheasants will congregate into loose flocks.  Males are polygamous, mating with a number of females and talking no part in nest building or incubation.  A satisfactory ratio in a captive environment is one cock to six hens.

Egg laying begins in September and extends to January, depending on geographic location. Hens lay 7 to 15 eggs and will go broody if sufficient shelter and protection is provided. If the eggs are regularly gathered, the hen will lay an average of 50 eggs. Incubation of pheasant eggs is 24 to 25 days.

Aviary management

The pheasant is regarded as a hardy bird and has the reputation of coping with extreme cold.  Each bird should have at least two to six square metres of ground space.  Good cover should be provided for the hens to escape from over-attentive cock birds and to provide a secure area to lay eggs.

Pheasants are very prone to cannibalism and feather picking, which is aggravated by overcrowding and boredom.  Providing shelter, hay bales, and other features in the aviary will help alleviate this situation.  The larger the aviary, the less likely problems in this area will occur.

Pheasants feed on the ground, but roost of a night.  Provide several sturdy perches for them to spread out in the aviary.  Adult birds like to have a dust bath. Provide a suitable area for this activity within the aviary. 

Bird development

Chicks grow quickly and reach maturity at six months.  Young cock birds begin to grow their characteristic feathers after about 10 weeks.  Adult males weigh in excess of 1.2kg and adult hens 900 grams.  Fertility is highest in the first and second seasons, declining after this.  Cock birds are still regarded as productive into their fourth year. Some birds have been recorded to live up to 15 years.

Chicks from 0 to 4 weeks should be provided a typical game bird crumble with a protein content of 28%.  From four to nine weeks the protein should be 24%, dropping to 18% from there on.

In their native environment pheasants eat seeds, grasses, leaves, fruit and insects.  Providing green feed to your birds will be of benefit to them.  Pelleted feed is better for delivering a complete nutritionally balanced diet.  Occasionally providing poultry scratch mix is a common practice to stimulate the birds.  Providing shell grit is also beneficial.

Pest and diseases

Fright is a major cause of fatalities in pheasants with the bird exploding into vertical flight, hitting the top of the aviary and breaking their necks.  Otherwise, pheasants are considered a hardy bird with the main diseases affecting birds likely to be coccidiosis and blackhead.

The symptoms of coccidiosis, blackhead and heavy worm infestations are similar with the bird looking miserable and producing loose green or yellowish droppings.

Pheasants will benefit from regular worming, at least twice a year.  The frequency should increase if there are multiple bird species in the aviary and/or wet conditions are experienced.

For more information

Text and photos by Doug Somerville, April 2014 Copyright author. Disclaimer: The information contained in this information sheet is based on knowledge and understanding at the time of writing (April 2014). However, because of advances in knowledge, users are reminded of the need to ensure that information upon which they rely is up to date and to check currency of the information.

Photgraphy provided by John Urane.

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