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Portrait of a male torquatus type pheasant

Portrait of a male torquatus type pheasant

Order : Chicken birds (Galliformes)
Family : Pheasants (Phasianidae)
Genre : Noble Pheasants ( Phasianus )
Type : pheasant
Scientific name
Phasianus colchicus
Linnaeus , 1758

The pheasant ( phasianus colchicus ; plural pheasants or pheasants ) is a bird art from the order of Galliformes . As with other pheasant species , the rooster is notable for its colorful plumage and significantly longer tail feathers. Hens show a brownish camouflage color. The rooster call is a loud, characteristic and often strung gö-göck ( example ? / I ). Audio file / audio sample

The natural range of the pheasant extends from the Black Sea over the arid regions of Central Asia to the East of Asia. While the numerous Central Asian islands are largely isolated from one another, the East Asian populations in China , Korea and Siberia inhabit a large contiguous area where numerous other subspecies live, some of which mix with one another at the limits of their distribution areas. Some authors also assign the Japanese pheasant to this species.

The pheasant was naturalized in Europe , the USA and other parts of the world, primarily for hunting purposes, but a stable population can usually only be maintained in the long term through conservation measures and releases. In southern Europe, the species was probably introduced as an ornamental bird and because of its tasty meat during antiquity , and was kept both wild and in captivity. The Romans probably spread it in Central and Western Europe. Since the early Middle Ages , pheasant husbandry has been documented sporadically at royal courts and monasteries, and a wild population or one in large pheasantries has been known since the late Middle Ages or early modern times . Many parts of Europe - such as Northern Europe - were not settled until the 19th century. Today the majority of the European stock can be found in Germany , France , Great Britain , Denmark , Hungary and Romania . The birds living here are mostly mixed forms of different subspecies, mainly the torquatus type, whose cocks show a white neck ring and a gray rump , and the colchicus type, which lacks the neck ring and has reddish brown rump plumage.

The pheasant colonizes semi-open landscapes, light forests with undergrowth or reed-covered wetlands, which offer them good cover and open areas for foraging. In Europe you can often find it in the cultural landscape . It mostly feeds on plant-based food such as seeds and berries, and also likes insects and other small animals. The neozoon pheasant eats large amounts of the neozoon Colorado beetle , which otherwise eat the leaves of the potato plants as larvae. A rooster usually lives with one or two hens during the breeding season. The pheasant mostly overwinters in the breeding areas. Occasionally, in winter, it gives way to habitats that offer more cover or food over short distances.


Pheasant cock of a mixed type, which shows the characteristics of several subspecies: gray parts in the rump and apex as in the torquatus group as well as tail feathers, rust-brown parts in the rump and white upper wing-coverts of the mongolicus group.
With the pheasant cock in courtship mood, the red areas of the face ("roses") are visibly enlarged
Pheasant hen
Chicks one hour after hatching
Tenebrosus type pheasant cock

The pheasant is 70-90 cm long in the male (with about 45-60 cm on the long, pointed tail) and 55-70 cm in the female (whose tail is about 20-25 cm long) to the medium-sized chickens. The wing length of Central European roosters is between 230 and 267 mm, and of the hen between 218 and 237 mm. Some subspecies have larger dimensions. The weight of an adult rooster is between 1.4 and 1.5 kg, that of a hen between 1.1 and 1.4 kg.

The feet are not feathered. Males have a rearward-facing spur on the barrel that grows in length with age. Females have a small button in place of the spur, which can also be missing. The iris is pale orange in the rooster, orange to amber in the hen and brown in the chicks. The cock's beak is greenish horn-colored, in the hen it is dark brownish horn-colored. The sexes show a clear sexual dimorphism with regard to the plumage.


In the rooster, the head and neck are glossy dark green, with the glossy areas on the crown being bronze-colored, on the sides of the neck purple to blue. The feathers on the back of the head are elongated and form the typical " feather ears ". The bare sides of the head are intensely red and have erectile tissue, which at the time of reproduction are enlarged to form the frontal and chin lobes and are known as "roses". A small, narrow area under the eye is feathered. The feathers on the neck, chest, sides of the body and flanks are copper-colored to reddish-gold with a darker base and have a blue-black glossy hem or a corresponding point. Towards the chest they are clearly rounded and, depending on the subspecies or stem shape, more or less broadly edged. The back and shoulder feathers are dark copper-red and have a sand-colored, U-shaped, black-edged central spot. The rump and tail-coverts show a greenish-purple shiny copper-red. The underside is matt black-brown with dark, shiny tips that are reddish towards the coverts. The under tail-coverts are reddish brown and partly show a black, glossy point. The primaries are dark brown, the secondaries pale gray-brown and wear irregular, beige-Top. The outer flags of the arm wings are washed out brownish. The large upper wing-coverts are yellowish gray-brown and have a light, arched markings with dark edges on the outer vane. The other wing covers are cinnamon-colored and, like the inner arm wings, show a coppery sheen. The middle tail feathers are greatly elongated and finely speckled with black on a yellow to olive-brown background and broadly banded across at some distance. The mottling increases towards the edges, the cross ties become wider towards the keel and taper towards the edge.


In contrast to that of the rooster, the hen’s dress is quite inconspicuous and has an overall brownish camouflage color. The crown is black-brown with light hems and bands, the top of the neck shows a reddish beige with black, subterminal spots. The reins and the stripe above the eyes as well as a spot between the eye and the ear covers are light beige. The latter has a narrow black border at the bottom. The chin is reddish beige, throat and front chest are reddish brown with dark feathers and pink edges. The rest of the breast and the flanks are clearly brown with coarse, dark markings. The underside and the under tail-coverts are dark, cross-waved on a light brownish background. The feathers on the upper side are red-brown with a sand-colored and black spot in a U-shape, a light hem and a black, central wedge spot. On the shoulders, the feathers show a chestnut-colored, partly shimmering copper subterminal spot. The wings are similar to those of the male, but show a clear, less faded pattern. The large upper wing-coverts are dark brown, the others light gray-brown and have a lighter cross-banded or speckled drawing. The rudder feathers have broad, dark transverse bands with a light center and sand-colored edges on a reddish brown background.


The downy dress is cream-colored to beige on the underside, and slightly darker yellowish-brown on the top. A broad, dark red-brown stripe, light side stripes and dark stripes over the eyes run from the crown to the neck. There is a dark spot behind the eye. The head pattern continues on the back with a broad central stripe and paler side stripes. The wings are rust-brown with a light border. The basic color is quite variable. So there are red-brown individuals with a weaker pattern.

When young, pheasants are colored similarly to hens on the underside, and the control feathers are still quite short. The top of the head and neck are dark brown, the top is black-brown with light brown hems and lines on the shaft. The wing plumage resembles that of the adult birds, but is sometimes still drawn washed out. The sexes differ only slightly. In their first annual dress, the young birds already look like adult birds.

"Hunting Pheasant"

In Europe and other parts of the world, in which the species was naturalized, there are mixed forms with the characteristics mostly of several subspecies, which are summarized under the name "hunting pheasant". Depending on the characteristics of the subspecies, a distinction can be made between two types. The colchicus type (“Bohemian copper pheasant”) is quite similar to the nominate form described above. The torquatus type ("Chinese rice pheasant") shows a more or less pronounced white neck ring that can be open towards the chest or the neck. In addition, this shape usually shows a lighter parting and an often dark-lined, white browline. The basic color of the front back is rather brownish to golden. The rump and tail- blanket area changes from blue to green-gray, but shows more or less broad fox to copper-red rump sides. The copper-red feathers of the front breast are relatively strongly incised at the tip and have a narrower edge than in the colchicus type. The pale feathers on the flanks and the rear breast are straw yellow to golden, the control feathers are light olive with rather wide transverse bands and a purple-red border. The upper wing-coverts show a bluish gray. Females of the torquatus -type are lighter than the colchicus -type with wider, light-colored feather edges, the chin and throat are often completely without black markings.

In Europe and North America, birds of the Central Asian mongolic group are often crossed, which can be recognized by the white upper wing coverts and the neck ring that is not closed at the front.

Mutations and cultivated forms

Mutations have occurred time and again in pheasant breeding, some of which were bred out as purely inheritable breeds and several also occasionally occur in free-living populations in addition to the main types described.

The most common type is the tenebrosus type . Although it is not unlike the Japanese pheasant ( Phasianus versicolor ), it is a melanistic form - mixed forms with the latter type look significantly different. It originated in Norfolk around 1880 and has been particularly popular in England and America since the 1930s. The top of the male is predominantly metallic green. The wing covers and lower abdomen are dark brown and the tail is golden brown with bronze colored edges and black banding. The chest and body sides show a shiny purple dark blue color with isabel-colored shaft stripes. The hen is soot-black.

Another mutation is the Isabel pheasant , in which the different, otherwise copper-colored and red-brown parts of the male are pale isabel-colored , but the head and neck, as usual, are also shiny dark green. The variant also occurs in wild populations and usually reproduces purely.

Two other mutations are the white pheasant , which is almost pigmentless, and the pied pheasant , in which there is a distinction between a red-spotted and a blue-spotted variant. These are mostly pure cultivated forms.


The moult of the adult birds is a full moult ; it takes place after the breeding season from June or July and is usually completed by September, sometimes not until October. Roosters molt a little earlier than hens, which, when they have young, usually begin to molt at the same time as their juvenile molt. The latter sets in before the downy dress is completely removed. At around 140 days, the young birds are largely feathered and the sexes can be clearly distinguished. The large plumage growth is only complete one month later.


Pheasant cock in flight
Pheasants go for food in the morning and evening
Pheasant cock on sleeping tree at dusk

The pheasant cock has a wide repertoire of sounds, which consists to a large extent of melodiously rough, crowing or metallic loud calls. The most frequent call is the Revierruf, which can be heard during the breeding season, but also occasionally in autumn - a two-syllable, loud and non- melodic göö-gock or kotock (audio sample). The individual calls of individual taps can also be easily distinguished by the human ear. This year's roosters are already expressing a not yet fully developed sounding variant in autumn. Roused roosters give off a gögök- like quality, which is performed in rows when excited and can increase to an almost screeching kuttuk-kuttuk kuttuk kuttuk-uk (audio sample). When looking for the sleeping place in the evening, a two- to three-syllable alarm call, a kokokok or toketok , is uttered at the time of reproduction . Further calls can usually only be heard during courtship or fighting, such as a chuckling gu gu gu guuu or the feed call call gaugau gau or kutj kutj kutj continuously uttered in courtship mood . A trr-trr-trr-trr or a deep, rough krrrah can be heard from arguing roosters as a battle cry. Mistrust is expressed with the head stretched out and a krrk sound.

The vocalizations of the hens are hardly noticeable and rarely heard. When alarmed, they utter a hissing zi-zik zi-zik or, in case of great excitement, a penetrating iii-äss iii-äas . The sounds uttered in disputes among hens are similar to those of roosters. A rough kia kia is issued as a pairing request .

If the female leads chicks, you can sometimes hear a deep, lined-up warning call, a chuckling collective call or a high ki ki ki ... as a lure call. The chicks, up to seven weeks old, utter a ter-rit or ter-wit as a voice -touch call . The warning sound is a loud tjurip . If you feel abandoned, give a long tiieerp .

Behavior and activity

The pheasant usually walks with long strides, with the tail held horizontally or diagonally upwards. If it is roused, it flies up noisily, but mostly only over short distances. If this happens several times, he will eventually try to escape on foot and find cover. He runs fast and persistently. The flight seems awkward with flapping wings, but is quite fast at 40–60 km / h. In dense terrain, the pheasant often flies up almost vertically. In the marshland of its Central Asian distribution area, the pheasant sometimes moves swimming over short distances.

Pheasants mostly sleep in trees, some subspecies probably also on the ground or in the thick reeds. In the summer months, the roosters begin to call about one to one and a half hours before sunrise and leave their roost at sunrise. In full daylight, the call to the area can be heard repeatedly at short intervals, and the birds begin to feed in open areas of the area. After two to three hours, people often go to a drinking place and then to a resting place. The retreat is again accompanied by calls to the area. The resting place is usually well hidden in the bushes, where sand baths are taken in excavated hollows and the noon hours are spent resting. A second peak of activity occurs in the late afternoon hours, which in turn are spent searching for food, before the birds retreat to their roosts after sunset with their crops full. From there the evening alarm calls can be heard until nightfall. In bad weather, the process can be delayed, in winter the activity is often severely restricted. When it is cold in winter, the birds often spend the night in close-knit sleeping communities.


Natural range (schematic: gray / detailed: black) and naturalizations (red) of the pheasant. For the red-striped areas there are mentions of occurrences, but no exact distribution information.

The natural distribution of the pheasant extends through the south of the central and east Palearctic and across parts of the Oriental region . On the one hand, it extends from the Black Sea in a wide belt south of the forest and steppe zone eastward to Qinghai in western China and the southern edge of the Gobi . The area is very well divided here, with the subareas mostly being made up of individual subspecies and largely isolated from one another. On the other hand, to the east of it, from the extreme southeast of Siberia and northeastern China, a large, closed area extends southward over most of China as well as Korea and Taiwan to the north of Vietnam , Laos , Thailand and Myanmar . Here the transitions between the subspecies are mostly fluid.

It is disputed whether the populations on the Turkish Black Sea coast, in Thrace and Macedonia are indigenous .

In addition, the species was naturalized in many parts of the world with varying degrees of success. Today it populates large parts of Europe. It is rare here only in Greece , the Italian Alps and parts of southern France. It is almost completely absent on the Iberian Peninsula and in northern Fennoscandia . In North America it occurs in large parts of southern Canada and the temperate latitudes of the USA and was also naturalized in Hawaii . The species is found locally in Chile , on both main islands of New Zealand and in the South Australian state of Victoria . There have also been attempts to settle on numerous islands.

In Japan the subspecies Ph. C. karpowi naturalized on Hokkaidō .

Geographic variation

Natural distribution, subspecies and subspecies groups of the pheasant

The geographical variation of the females is not very pronounced, that of the males is very clear, so that over 30 subspecies can be differentiated in 5 groups. The differences are sometimes very gradual (clinical), sometimes there are clear breaks between geographically neighboring populations. A characteristic that varies in a clearly clinical range is the expression of the predominantly copper-colored breast feathers, which in the western subspecies are not very indented at the tip and have broad black margins, to the east they are more indented and narrow black margins to pointed.

torquatus group

The subspecies of this group, which is mainly native to China, show a greenish or bluish-gray rump and bluish-gray upper wing-coverts. The tail is broadly banded in black on a yellowish to olive brown background. In the eastern subspecies, a white neck ring and light brow lines are pronounced. In the two subspecies strauchi and sohokhotensis , the former is narrow, the latter is missing. In the more western subspecies - with the exception of the isolated hagenbecki population - the neck ring is also missing .

  • Ph. C. pallasi Rothschild , 1903 - southeastern Siberia and northeastern China
  • Ph. C. karpowi Buturlin , 1904 - northeastern China (southern Manchuria and northern Hebei ) and Korea , naturalized on Hokkaidō
  • Ph. C. kiangsuensis Buturlin , 1904 - northeastern China (northern Shanxi and Shaanxi ) and southeastern Mongolia
  • Ph. C. alaschanicus Alphéraky & Bianchi , 1908 - northern and central China (western foothills of the Helan Mountains )
  • Ph. C. edzinensis Sushkin , 1926 - isolated occurrence in oases of the Gobi in the basin of the lower Edsin Gol , north of Gansu
  • Ph. C. satscheuensis Pleske , 1892 - isolated occurrence in the Dunhuang region , far west of Gansu
  • Ph. C. torquatus Gmelin , 1789 - Eastern China ( Shandong and south to the Vietnamese border)
  • Ph. C. takatsukasae Delacour , 1927 - southern China (south of Guangxi ) and northern Vietnam
  • Ph. C. formosanus Elliot , 1870 - Taiwan
  • Ph. C. strauchi Przevalski , 1876 - central China (southern Shaanxi and southern and central Gansu)
  • Ph. C. sohokhotensis Burtulin , 1908 - Soho Khoto oasis near Minqin , eastern Gansu, the birds in the Qilian Mountains may also belong to this subspecies
  • Ph. C. vlangallii Przevalski , 1876 - isolated occurrence in the reed swamps west of the Qaidam Basin in northwestern Qinghai
  • Ph. C. suehschanensis Bianchi , 1906 - western and central China (northwest of Sichuan )
  • Ph. C. elegans Elliot , 1870 - western and central China (western Sichuan)
  • Ph. C. decollatus Swinhoe , 1870 - central China (Sichuan eastward to western Hubei and southward to northeastern Yunnan and Guizhou )
  • Ph. C. rothschildi La Touche , 1922 - southern and central China (eastern Yunnan) and northern Vietnam
  • Ph. C. hagenbecki Rothschild , 1901 - isolated occurrence in western Mongolia: northern Gobi-Altai to Lake Khara Usu and the Chowd Gol river basin to Achit Nuur

tarimensis group

These two subspecies stand between the western and the Chinese subspecies. The breast feathers are cut relatively heavily and the control feathers are broadly banded on a yellowish background, as in the torquatus group. They also have a shiny green band around the middle of the abdomen.

  • Ph. C. shawii Elliot , 1870 - western and southern Xinjiang from Hotan eastwards through the Tarim Basin to the lower reaches of the Aksu , on the upper reaches of the Tarim
  • Ph. C. tarimensis Pleske , 1888 - Eastern and southern parts of the Tarim Basin to the Lop Nur , mixed populations with shawii westwards to Maralbexi

mongolic group

Contrary to what the name implies, this group does not inhabit Mongolia, but lives west of the Altai . The two subspecies show a wide, front not closed, white neck ring and on top a green shiny copper-red, white upper wing-coverts and reddish rump. The banding of the rather reddish tail is narrow.

principalis group

These subspecies lack the neck ring or it is only hinted at. The upper side is tinted reddish and the upper wing-coverts are white. Here, too, the rump is red-brown and the reddish tail is narrowly banded.

colchicus group

This group is tinted more purple and the neck ring is missing. The upper wing-coverts are yellow-brown and the rump is red-brown. The reddish tail is narrowly banded, as in all western subspecies.

  • Ph. C. persicus Severtsov , 1875 - area of ​​the Kopet-Dag, mixes with Ph. c. talischensis
  • Ph. C. talischensis Lorenz , 1888 - southern edge of the Caspian Sea from the lower Kura to Babolsar
  • Ph. C. colchicus Linnaeus , 1758 - Western Georgia , northeastern Azerbaijan , southern Armenia, and northwestern Iran


Some authors also based in Japan is green pheasant ( Phasianus versicolor ) with the three subspecies versicolor , robustipes and tanensis assigned to the pheasant. This is supported by the fact that the expression of the breast feathers is the clear continuation of the clinical series in the subspecies of Phasianus colchicus and that the control feathers , the rump and the upper wing covers do not clearly differ from the latter species. A striking distinguishing feature, however, is the dark green color of the body plumage, so that the colored pheasant is usually placed as a separate species with the pheasant in a super species .


Along the rivers of Central Asia, the pheasant often
inhabits tugais - narrow riparian forests of willow , Euphrates poplar , tamarisk, paliurus and liquorice
In its Chinese homeland, the pheasant often lives in the cultural landscape

The pheasant needs sufficient cover in its habitat, open areas that can be used for feeding and courtship, as well as a food supply that is guaranteed all year round. Another prerequisite is the availability of drinking water: In the arid regions of Central Asia in particular , the species is therefore tied to rivers and bodies of water, but such habitats are also preferred in other parts of the distribution area. Snow-rich areas are avoided in winter, which often limits the altitude distribution. In summer, the species is sometimes satisfied with poor or small-scale cover; in winter, this must offer sufficient protection even in severe weather. If this is not the case in the summer area, a biotope change takes place in winter. However, the species usually only migrates a few kilometers. Due to the sociable way of life in the winter months, entire populations can get by with relatively small wintering areas.

Due to these demands, the original distribution of the species is mainly south of the closed forest and steppe zones , where naturally a small-scale mosaic of wetlands, light forests and scrubland as well as open grasslands and semi-deserts offer optimal conditions. These conditions can also be found in the European cultural landscape, so that the species was naturalized here quite successfully compared to other hen birds. The individual subspecies differ significantly in their ecological requirements, which has also been reflected in the different naturalization successes and is particularly noticeable in places where both the colchicus and the torquatus types occur today. While the former is tied to forests, the latter also populates relatively open grass and cultivated landscapes.

In the Caucasus region and on the Caspian Sea , the pheasant occurs in light forests with dense undergrowth of blackberries , in gallery and alluvial forests, reed or willow stands and swampy thickets. The height distribution extends here in wooded valleys up to 800 m. Sometimes the species also colonizes tea plantations here .

In the arid regions between the Caspian Sea and the Alai , the pheasant lives mainly on rivers and bodies of water and inhabits reed and cane stocks , tamarisk jungles , stocks of willows and ravenna grass as well as gallery forests and tugais . The species also penetrates the bushes on the edge of the dry steppe less often. In the cultural landscape, it can also be found on trenches overgrown with pile pipe . In the mountains it occurs among other things in bushes on the edge of the deciduous forest zone , but migrates to the plains in winter. The altitude distribution here extends up to around 3400 m.

The subspecies of the Tarim Basin colonize high stands of grass and thickets of reeds. Little is known about those on the southern edge of the Gobi.

The three western subspecies Ph. C. Live in the closed East Asian distribution area . rothschildii , elegans and suehschanensis with tall grass and ferns, slopes and summits as well as - with the exception of suehschanensis - also light coniferous forests. The northern subspecies Ph. C. pallasi , karpowi , strauchi and kiangsuensis show similar claims as that of the Caucasus region and the green pheasant . You need light forests with dense undergrowth, field trees, bank and bush vegetation as well as wide grass meadows, fields or plantations such as tea plantations for foraging. These subspecies also occur in the mountains and on plateaus at heights of up to 3000 m.

The southeast subspecies Ph. C. torquatus , takatsukasae , decollatus and formosanus prefer to live in reed swamps , but are often found in wasteland and in the cultivated landscape, such as rice and grain fields, for foraging. You are not bound to forests and prefer the plains or hilly promontories.


The pheasant's diet is largely determined by what is available, but the majority of it is plant-based. Only in the first four weeks of life does it consist predominantly of insects, after which the proportion of animal food decreases sharply. Vegetable food mostly consists of seeds, but also of subterranean parts of plants such as nodules, bulbs and roots. The spectrum ranges from the tiny seeds of small carnations to nuts and acorns. Hard-shell fruits are eaten in the same way as berries, which are poisonous for humans. In the end of winter and spring, more shoots and fresh leaves are taken up. The spectrum of animal food ranges from tiny arthropods to earthworms and snails to small vertebrates such as young snakes or voles . Small insects and their larvae are often picked up in astonishing numbers and numbers. For digestion, pebbles ( gastroliths ) of 1–5 mm in size or, in the absence of these, parts of snail shells or small bones are taken up. During the breeding season, the females increasingly swallow calcareous pebbles, which may be recognized by their taste.

The search for food takes place mainly on the ground, with some digging with the feet in the earth, but for the most part digging sideways with the beak. The bird sometimes works its way through fresh snow up to 30–35 cm deep. Small creatures are stalked while stalking, hanging berries sometimes jumping up from the ground, but sometimes also harvested sitting in trees and bushes. Often the food is picked in the form of tiny components and pieces are bitten out of larger fruits.

Hikes and winter parties

In winter the pheasant usually lives in flocks of birds of the same sex

In general, the pheasant is a resident bird . If the summer area does not offer enough cover or food options, then only the biotope is changed. The migration movements take place when necessary and are usually a few kilometers. Only from the northern subspecies Ph. C. turcestanicus , mongolicus and pallasi are known to migrate annually over sometimes larger distances. They migrate early in the year from snowy mountain regions to the plains.

If the pheasant is territorial during the breeding season, it lives in small or large communities in the winter months, which often only consist of birds of the same sex. The associations of the females comprise between 10 and 30, rarely up to 100 individuals. The males are smaller and consist of three to four roosters and a few hens or just two to ten roosters in mixed-sex groups. There is a strict hierarchy, especially in rooster societies, and disputes over feed are often fought vehemently. There are similar structures with the hens, which are always below the roosters in the hierarchy, but there the disputes are usually less intense. The order of precedence also remains in the breeding season: Dominant cocks occupy territories more than subdominant animals.


At the time of breeding, the rooster patrols on fixed routes through its territory
The pheasant cock's loud call for territory is followed by a noisy, widely audible wing vortex
Fighting pheasant cocks

Pheasants become sexually mature in the first year. While young roosters are able to reproduce in the first autumn, the hens' ovaries do not mature until spring.

During the breeding season, the pheasant lives in harem polygyny , a rooster usually mates with one to two, sometimes three or more hens. The report of a hybrid pheasant from the USA who kept a harem of 16 hens is an extreme case. After the dissolution of the winter societies, the rooster occupied a territory in which it tried to tie hens passing through to itself. If this is successful, he accompanies the hens on their daily forays through the area. The courtship takes place in pairs. After successful mating, the female separates from the harem and pursues the breeding business alone within the area, while the rooster mates with other females if necessary. When all the hens are brooding, the rooster loses interest in the territory and does not defend it any further. Only in rare exceptional cases has it been reported that roosters participated in the breeding business and rearing young. After the breeding season, they sometimes socialize again with flocks made up of this year's young birds.

The breeding season is in the entire natural range with slight geographical and weather-related shifts between March and June. In Central Europe, it begins in mid-March and is usually completed in late May or early June. Copulations were noted from late March to late June. There is only one annual brood. If the clutch is lost, however, there are up to two times lagging behind, so that late broods in August and September are not uncommon.

There may be deviations from the usual phenology in areas where the pheasant was introduced. The duration of the breeding season in climatically favorable New Zealand is sometimes up to eight months. Second broods also occur here.

Territorial behavior

The first signs of territorial behavior can be seen in the roosters' winter flocks in warm weather in autumn and then again from February. However, the societies usually only dissolve in permanently mild weather from March onwards. High-ranking roosters are often accompanied by a lower-ranking animal. They are now patrolling on fixed routes through a district that is often the same as last year, and the district call is heard more and more frequently. At first they tolerate the lower ranking "satellites" in their vicinity, but later these are vehemently driven out as rivals and retreat to the territorial boundaries, where they wait for an opportunity to occupy their own territory or, in the absence of the territory owner, to contact his hens to search. It is not uncommon for them to attempt copulation. However, some of these roosters migrate and sometimes they manage to colonize new areas.

The pheasant cock expresses its claim to territory by calling out loudly, which it repeats every 10 to 15 minutes at the height of the breeding season. To do this, he looks for a raised spot like a grass bulten , stands up and flaps his wings silently at first. The tail is erected or used as a support. Then the bird throws up its head and lets out a loud go-gock and a “ purring of wings ” that can be heard from afar . When they are within earshot, males in neighboring territories respond with a slightly quieter double call.

It is not uncommon for disputes to arise at territorial boundaries. The roosters look at each other with bristling plumage and swollen red faces and run next to each other at the border of the territory with threatening shouts or fix themselves with their heads held down and demonstratively pluck grass. If there is an attack, the roosters fly up chest to chest and then try to injure themselves with their beak and feet. Usually one of the cocks gives up quickly and is then chased away by the winner. Often territorial disputes also end when an inferior cock takes a submissive posture in response to the threatening pose of the other. The size of the red areas of the face plays an important role, which is usually very swollen in dominant cocks and usually small in the underdog. Attempts in which these areas were artificially enlarged by painted red led to lengthy disputes.

The size of a pheasant area is between 12 and 45 hectares and can fluctuate greatly during the entire breeding season.

Mating and courtship

The winter communities of the females dissolve around the time the roosters are formed, and the hens then roam on open areas through the already occupied territories. They are then wooed by the courting roosters, who run around the hens with ruffled back feathers, swollen red faces and fanned tails, turning their sides to them with lowered wings. Using the air sacs, they generate a hissing noise and make the tail feathers vibrate noisily.

After mating, the hen may join an existing harem. The rooster now apparently follows the hens on their daily forays, some of which also influence the size of the area through their radius of action and can thus also cause territorial disputes between roosters.

During the forays through the area, the rooster makes continuously chuckling contact sounds. Occasionally he lures a hen with the fodder call kuj-kutj-kutj and presents a piece of food he has discovered to the female with a raised tail and a crouched position. He also occasionally mates a hen in the "side courtship" already described. In the course of this, there may be pursuits, but also a request for mating by the female and copulation. Later, copulations take place even without courtship at a brief request from the female. Courtship and copulation are both carried out away from the harem, and a hen can escape by rejoining the other hens.

It is not uncommon for the hens of a harem to engage in rival behavior and fights, although it has not been conclusively clarified what these arguments are about.

Brooding hens leave the harem. Sometimes hens are added after the breeding season or individual hens leave the territory, which the rooster ignores. Only when the last hen broods does he give up the territory or try to poach more hens from neighboring territories.

Nest building, clutching and incubation

Egg of the pheasant

The nest consists of a shallow trough 12–27 cm in diameter and 2–12 cm deep. This is either already there or is dug out or shaped by the female and only lined with a few sparse stalks, roots or sticks. It is usually located on the ground and is well covered by the herb layer or the lower shrub layer. Often nests are created on the edge of thickets or hedges and it is not uncommon for them to stand in the middle of bulbs of grass. Some nests can also be found elevated on bales of hay or pollarded willows or in the abandoned nests of pigeons, crows or birds of prey. These can be up to 10 m high.

The moderately to strongly glossy eggs are unsigned, blunt-oval and on average 46 mm × 36 mm in size. The color ranges from brown to olive-brown and olive-green to blue-gray and can vary widely within a clutch. The clutch size varies depending on the subspecies and is between 4 and 16 eggs, but mostly between 8 and 12. Larger clutches probably come from two hens. Replacement scrims are usually smaller.

If there is no nest yet, hens often move the first eggs into the nests of other hens or even other bird species such as other chickens, ducks or railings. Some eggs are simply laid in the landscape. Clutches that are too small are sometimes supplemented with round pebbles.

The eggs are usually laid at lunchtime 24 hours apart, sometimes with a break of up to two days. The earliest laying start in Central Europe is in mid-March, most eggs are laid between the end of April and the beginning of June. The incubation begins after the last egg has been deposited or 1 to 2 days later. It lasts about 23 days, and longer if there are frequent disorders.

Rearing boys

Young pheasants are precocial that remain after hatching only a few hours to dry in the nest, followed by the chicken and search for food independently in their vicinity. They are able to fly after 10–12 days and depend on the hen for around 70–80 days, who shows them sources of food and defends them against enemies. On the ground enemies responded by enticing , the chicks are defended against smaller air enemies until they cover have visited.

Mortality and Age

In the natural range in Central Asia, the main predators include the golden jackal , red fox and reed cat , feral domestic cats and stray dogs as well as birds of prey, owls and corvids.

The proportion of clutch losses is often quite high at 42 and 85%. Due to lagging behind, however, mostly 70–80% of the females have a breeding success. On average, the number of young birds that survive until they become self-employed is 3.4–7 per hen.

Various studies from Europe show a high mortality rate of just over 80% in the first year. The causes are not entirely clear. Later it will be almost 60%. The average annual mortality for roosters is almost 80%, for hens a little over 60%. The average life expectancy for roosters after the first year is 9 months and that for hens 14 months. A population usually consists of only a few years.

The maximum age of a pheasant living in the wild was 7 years and 7 months, as evidenced by a ring find.

Inventory development

The pheasant is the only fowl species that has really been successfully established outside of its natural range, but the populations there are always subject to great fluctuations and usually cannot survive in the long term without releasing breeding birds and winter feeding. This became particularly clear during and after the Second World War , when in Central Europe the populations had almost completely collapsed apart from residual occurrences in optimal habitats and could only be brought back to the old level through massive releases in the 1950s and 60s. In the Netherlands there were sharp declines (by 50%) around the 1990s after suspensions had largely been stopped, and in Baden-Württemberg a similar development was noticeable due to the absence of suspensions. In part, however, the decline in stocks can also be attributed to the intensification of agriculture, the effects of which even exposure cannot significantly reduce. In optimal habitats such as floodplain or moorland areas, however, the development can also be significantly different. Obviously, even without exposures, there are at times significant population increases.

Little data is available on population developments in the natural range. A significant reduction in the occurrence of the subspecies Ph. C. colchicus since antiquity and studies of the history of its expansion in the Central Asian arid regions suggest long-term loss of area. In the short term, snowy winters have an impact on stocks and often cause considerable stock losses, which, however, are usually compensated for very quickly due to the high reproductive capacity.

The pheasant population was classified in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2016 as “ Least Concern (LC) ” = “not endangered”. The world population is roughly estimated at 45–300 million birds, the European population at 3,400,000–4,700,000 breeding pairs.

Pheasant and human

Spread history

Presumably pheasant representation on Wetterau goods from the Salisberg fort , 1st / 2nd c . Century AD

The distribution of the pheasant by humans is partly quite well documented by historical sources, but is only insufficiently supported by archaeological findings. Another problem is the differentiation between keeping in breeding farms and the free-living populations established by reintroduction. There can often be a considerable period of time between these phases of expansion, as for example in Denmark, where pheasant holdings have been documented since 1560, but the final naturalization apparently only took place in 1840.

Since the 5th century BC The species is known to the Greeks and was apparently kept there, as evidenced by Greek grave inscriptions in memory of "pheasant masters" (φασιανάριοι). Presumably the birds got there via the Black Sea trade.

The next evidence comes from the time of the Ptolemies , then there are only mentions from the Roman Empire . How far the pheasant was spread by the Romans and whether there were already wild populations in Central and Western Europe at this time is not known.

Even in the early Middle Ages, most of the evidence relates to breeding. Charlemagne , for example, decreed the keeping on his palaces . In the monastery of St. Gallen and in Bohemia , the keeping began around the 11th century. In England remains of pheasants from Roman times were found, but it was probably only finally introduced there by the Normans around 1059. The first free-living populations in Central Europe have apparently been in the Rhineland since the 12th and 13th centuries . Albertus Magnus described pheasants living in the wild in a Cologne monastery garden.

In the area of ​​the old German Empire , the pheasant spread in Tyrol and Saxony in the 15th century . This and other spreads of the range go back to the release of pheasants. In around 1500 , Elector Frederick the Wise released 200 pheasants in Saxony. In the 16th century the species settled in Hungary , Hesse , Styria and Silesia and in the course of the 17th century it also settled in Mecklenburg , Braunschweig , Aargau , Salzburg and Hanover . Pheasants were also successfully released on various islands in the late Middle Ages and in the early modern period , for example on St. Helena in 1513 and on Madeira in 1667. Belgium and Holstein were probably settled in the middle of the 18th century, for Pomerania the 19th century and for the East Frisian Islands confirmed the end of the same.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the pheasant was also introduced in large parts of Northern Europe, North America, Cyprus , the North Frisian Islands , New Zealand and parts of Australia.

In Japan the subspecies Ph. C. karpowi was introduced on Tsushima before the 17th century , but only on Hokkaidō from 1925.

Mythology and Cultural History

Pheasant as a symbol of the persecuted soul: fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli , 1459–1463

The name of the pheasant comes from the ancient Greek Argonauts legend . As Agatharchides and later Martial report, Jason and his companions catch magnificent colorful chicken birds on the Phasis River . After the name of the landscape at that time - Kolchis - Linné chose colchicus as the species name .

There are also other mentions among the Greeks: Aristophanes mocks a pheasant breeder named Leogoras in one of his writings, and Aristotle mentions the pheasant's sand bathing against lice. Among the Romans, Pliny writes about the pheasant's feather ears, Seneca uses it in his “dialogues” as a symbol of table luxury. Galen describes meat and eggs as wholesome. In addition, over 100 colored mosaics are known from antiquity that show the species.

In the Middle Ages the pheasant was the epitome of luxury food and indulgence, but it also played a role in folk medicine, where blood, fat, bile and feces and feathers were used as an incense. Consumption against fever and plague was recommended in plague tracts . In medieval illuminations, the pheasant appears only as a decorative element. However, in a Greek Physiologus review , it is considered a symbol of the devil due to the fact that hens lure the hunter away from their chicks.

In the symbolism of the fine arts of later centuries, the pheasant often replaced the peacock and then stands accordingly as a symbol of the resurrection ( phoenix ), for the goddess Hera , as a symbol of love, lust or pride . Especially pheasant pies were as Allegory of Superbia and Gula displayed - from the 15th century, the roasted pheasant was often served in full plumage. The pheasant pursued by the hawk has the only independent meaning in iconography as a symbol of the pursued soul. The pheasant later became a popular motif in hunting still lifes and landscape paintings.

In its East Asian homeland, the pheasant plays an important role in symbolism and popular superstition. In China it stands for light, prosperity, happiness and beauty, in Japan for protection, motherly love and virtue. If the pheasant did not call his territory at the beginning of the 12th month, if it was a sign of the arrival of a great flood, if he had not called in the middle of it, then the women would become immoral and - partly as pheasant spirits in human form - the men seduce. An old board game turns the pheasant into an opponent of the owl. The pheasant also appears frequently in mythology. One of the three companions of the Nüwa is a nine-headed pheasant, and the Fenghuang , a kind of phoenix, has a pheasant's head.


Today the pheasant is often hunted with the pointing dog or retrievers like this Labrador Retriever

Since the pheasant keeps relatively well in the cultivated landscape of the temperate latitudes, its social and reproductive behavior ensures a constant "surplus" of non-territorial cocks and its ability to reproduce is quite high, it is a game that can be farmed intensively. In addition, the species is culinarily attractive, and hunters appreciate that the frightened birds soar high up, which makes them ideal for shooting.

Until 1900, the pheasant was one in Germany for big game , and in previous centuries, the hunt was in many places reserved for the rulers. The ban on wild animals and special hunting laws have been traceable since the 13th century, and poaching such as the removal of eggs has been punished with high (fines) penalties until modern times. In the Middle Ages, the pheasant was hunted with nets, snares, crossbows and bows. But more important was the hunt with the hawk and larger falcon species. In the 18th century a dog ("Fasanenbeller") was used to track down and the bird was shot from the tree when it landed there. One variant was to kill the pheasants at night in the moonlight or with the help of dazzling lanterns. Pheasants were also caught with cord, drift nets and snares.

Since the late 18th century hunting weapons, the development of crushing and dressage was from by improving pointing dogs the shooting hunting widespread and repressed during the 19th century, other forms of hunting small game that can no longer as waidgerecht at her. Today, the pheasant is therefore mainly hunted in search and bush hunt in individual hunts or in group hunts. The latter are offered on a large scale in the Czech Republic , Slovakia , Hungary , England and Denmark , where there are goods that are entirely geared towards pheasant hunting and mainly live on it. Here are daily distances of 500 to 800 birds not unusual.

The hunting season is in autumn and winter. In Germany, according to Section 1 of the Federal Hunting Seasons Ordinance , it begins on October 1 and ends on January 15, but individual federal states have shorter hunting seasons. Roosters are mainly hunted in order to obtain a sex ratio of around 1: 5. When hens are shot, it is mostly older animals.

Care and exposure

Even if free-living pheasant populations hold up quite well in the cultural landscape of Europe and North America, conservation measures and releases are usually necessary in order to maintain the population in the long term. Pheasant farms, which rearing for targeted releases on a large scale, have been documented since the late Middle Ages.

A distinction is made between breeding pheasantries, which produce eggs and young birds on a large scale and under artificial conditions, and wild pheasantries, in which eggs are hatched by chickens or turkeys or in incubators and the young birds are reared in as natural an environment as possible. The pheasant stocks released are then supported by further conservation measures such as winter feeding with grain and other vegetable food or the creation of wild fields. The latter guarantee an insecticide-free food supply for the chicks in the intensively managed cultural landscape and also offer cover and breeding opportunities. The pursuit and hunting of natural predators to protect the pheasant, which was particularly intensive in the 1960s and is sometimes still practiced today, is considered to be questionable.


Pheasant breast wrapped in serano ham on champagne cabbage with croquettes

The pheasant is valued as a delicate wild fowl , which is available on markets during the hunting season, but also all year round in some butchers and delicatessen shops and frozen in supermarkets. It is not uncommon for the birds to come from intensive animal husbandry . The lean, light-colored meat of freshly dead pheasants has a taste similar to chicken meat, only when the bird has hung out for a while does it develop the typical, mild game taste . The period of hanging varies depending on the temperature, the desired taste and the further processing and is now mostly between three and seven days, previously up to 15 days or longer. If the meat is pickled , the time is correspondingly shorter. The forms of preparation and side dishes are just as diverse as with other poultry. The eggs are also sometimes used in the kitchen.

Pheasant feathers have always been part of fashion in many cultures as hat decorations , helmets , as accessories to traditional costumes, uniforms and costumes or in fans and fronds.

supporting documents


  • Urs N. Glutz von Blotzheim , Kurt M. Bauer: Handbook of the birds of Central Europe. Volume 5, Galliformes - Gruiformes. Aula-Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2nd edition, 1994, ISBN 3-923527-00-4 , pp. 322-370.
  • Heinz-Sigurd Raethel : Chicken birds of the world. Verlag J. Neumann-Neudamm GmbH & Co. KG, Melsungen 1988, ISBN 3-7888-0440-8 .
  • Alexander V. Solokha: Evolution of the Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus L.) in Middle Asia. In: Victor Fet / Khabibulla I. Atamuradov (ed.): Biogeography and Ecology of Turkmenistan. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht 1994, ISBN 0-7923-2738-1 .
  • Jochen Hölzinger : The birds of Baden-Württemberg. Vol. 2/2, non-songbirds: Tetraonidae (rough-footed grouse) - Alcidae (alken), Verlag Eugen Ulmer, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 978-3-8001-3441-0 .
  • RG Bijlsma, D. Hill: Phasianus colchicus. In: WJM Hagemeijer, MJ Blair: The EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds - their distribution and abundance. T & AD Poyser, London 1997, ISBN 0-85661-091-7 , pp. 218-219.
  • Christian Wilhelm Hünemörder : "Phasianus" - studies on the cultural history of the pheasant. Philosophical Faculty; Rheinische Friedrich Wilhelm Univ., Bonn 1970 ( content )

Web links

Commons : Pheasant ( Phasianus colchicus )  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Fasan  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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This article was added to the list of excellent articles on February 11, 2011 in this version .