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The Silver pheasant

Lophura nycthemera

The silver pheasant (Lophura nycthemera) naturally inhabits the forests and mountains of South East Asia, Eastern and Southern China. The population in Australian aviculture is reasonably stable, although not kept in large numbers.  The silver pheasant is in the same genus as Nepal kalij pheasants (Lophura leucomelanos) and the Siamese fireback (Lophura diardi).  It readily hybridises with the kalij pheasant.

There are reported to be 15 subspecies of silver pheasants and the species that is the most common in aviculture is Lophura nycthemera nycthemera.  There is overlap of the different subspecies of silver pheasants and also of the Nepal kalij and Siamese fireback.  Thus, there is significant debate about the relatedness of various identifiable groups.

The silver pheasant tends to be found at higher elevations in both grassland and forest environment throughout mainland Southeast Asia.  While their conservation status is listed as of ‘least concern’, their habitat is diminishing and their population is declining.

Silver pheasants have been kept in aviculture within Asia for centuries and they regularly appear in ancient Chinese art and poetry.

Seasonal behaviour

It is possible to keep silver pheasants as pairs or trios, but the males have a fearsome reputation.

There are ample reports of them killing their females or even other birds kept in the same aviary.  Some birds also delight in attacking anyone who enters their aviary.  There may be some advantages of having other birds in adjacent aviaries on which the silver male can turn their attention.  Even so, there are plenty of examples of quiet male silver pheasants that do not display aggression.

Silvers are one of the first pheasants in the season to commence laying.

Clutches vary from 6–15 eggs, with an incubation period of 26–27 days.  The hens are great mothers and the males do participate in tending to the young chicks.

Aviary environment

As they are a larger bird it is important to house them in a larger aviary.  Floor size of 12m2 should be considered, furnished with high perches and areas for the birds (particularly the hens) to feel secure.

They naturally roost very high in the forest canopy at night, preferring dense foliage.  This scenario should be emulated if and where possible.

Bird development

The adult birds do not reach their peak plumage until their second year.  Likewise, their fertility in the first year can be poor and they should be in peak fertility by their second year.

The male is black and white, while the female is mainly brown.  Both birds have a bare, red face and red legs.

Silver pheasants are large birds when fully grown and the males can weigh from one to two kilograms, with the females weighing above one kilogram.  It is possible to get an idea of the age of the males by the length of their spurs.  The longer the spur, the older the bird.

Feeding silver pheasants is much the same as other pheasant species.  Besides the regular pellet combination, they will benefit from the addition of fresh green feed.

The chicks grow very quickly and should be fed a high protein diet.  They are able to fly within days of hatching.

Pests and diseases

They are a hardy bird, tolerating extreme cold conditions.  Worm treatments should be considered at the end of winter, just before egg laying commences.

For more information

Text by Doug Somerville, November 2016 Copyright author. Disclaimer: The information contained in this information sheet is based on knowledge and understanding at the time of writing (November 2016). 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.

Photography by John Urane

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