The common pheasant is a bird in the pheasant family (Phasianidae). The genus name comes from Latin
phasianus, "pheasant". The species name colchicus is Latin for "of Colchis" a country on the Black Sea where
pheasants became known to Europeans.
It is native to Asia and has been widely introduced elsewhere as a game bird. In parts of its range, namely
in places where none of its relatives occur such as in Europe (where it is naturalized), it is simply known
as the "pheasant". Ring-necked pheasant is both the name used for the species as a whole in North America
and also the collective name for a number of subspecies and their intergrades that have white neck rings.
The word pheasant is derived from the ancient town of Phasis, the predecessor of the modern port city of Poti
in Western Georgia.
It is a well-known gamebird, among those of more than regional importance perhaps the most widespread and
ancient one in the whole world. The common pheasant is one of the world's most hunted birds; it has been
introduced for that purpose to many regions, and is also common on game farms where it is commercially bred.
Ring-necked pheasants in particular are commonly bred and were introduced to many parts of the world; the
game farm stock, though no distinct breeds have been developed yet, can be considered semi-domesticated.
The ring-necked pheasant is the state bird of South Dakota, one of only three U.S. state birds that is not a
species native to the United States.
The green pheasant (P. versicolor) of Japan is sometimes considered a subspecies of the common pheasant.
Though the species produce fertile hybrids wherever they coexist, this is simply a typical feature among
fowl (Galloanseres), in which postzygotic isolating mechanisms are slight compared to most other birds. The
species apparently have somewhat different ecological requirements and at least in its typical habitat, the
green pheasant outcompetes the common pheasant. The introduction of the latter to Japan has therefore largely
There are many colour forms of the male common pheasant, ranging in colour from nearly white to almost black
in some melanistic examples. These are due to captive breeding and hybridization between subspecies and with
the green pheasant, reinforced by continual releases of stock from varying sources to the wild. For example,
the "ring-necked pheasants" common in Europe, North America and Australia do not pertain to any specific
taxon, they rather represent a stereotyped hybrid swarm. Body weight can range from 0.5 to 3 kg
(1.1 to 6.6 lb), with males averaging 1.2 kg (2.6 lb) and females averaging 0.9 kg (2.0 lb).
The adult male common pheasant of the nominate subspecies Phasianus colchicus colchicus is 60-89 cm
(24-35 in) in length with a long brown streaked black tail, accounting for almost 50 cm (20 in) of the total
length. The body plumage is barred bright gold or fiery copper-red and chestnut-brown plumage with
irredescent sheen of green and purple; but rump uniform is sometimes blue. The wing coverage is white or
cream and black-barred markings are common on the tail. The head is bottle green with a small crest and
distinctive red wattle. P. c. colchicus and some other races lack a white neck ring. Behind the face are two
ear-tufts, that make the pheasant to alert.
The female (hen) and juveniles are much less showy, with a duller mottled brown plumage all over and
measuring 50-63 cm (20-25 in) long including a tail of around 20 cm (7.9 in). Juvenile birds have the
appearance of the female with a shorter tail until young males begin to grow characteristic bright feathers
on the breast, head and back at about 10 weeks after hatching.
The green pheasant (P. versicolor) is very similar, and hybridization often makes the identity of individual
birds difficult to determine. Green pheasant males on average have a shorter tail than the common pheasant
and have darker plumage that is uniformly bottle-green on the breast and belly; they always lack a neck ring.
Green pheasant females are darker, with many black dots on the breast and belly.
In addition, various color mutations are commonly encountered, mainly melanistic (black) and flavistic
(isabelline or fawn) specimens. The former are rather common in some areas and are named Tenebrosus pheasant
(P. colchicus var. tenebrosus).
Common pheasants are native to Asia, their original range extending from between the Black and Caspian Seas
to Manchuria, Siberia, Korea, Mainland China, and Taiwan. The birds are found in woodland, farmland, scrub,
and wetlands. In its natural habitat the common pheasant lives in grassland near water with small copses of
trees. Extensively cleared farmland is marginal habitat that cannot maintain self-sustaining populations
Common pheasants are gregarious birds and outside the breeding season form loose flocks. Wherever they are
hunted they are always timid once they associate humans with danger, and will quickly retreat for safety
after hearing the arrival of hunting parties in the area.
While common pheasants are able short-distance fliers, they prefer to run. If startled however, they can
suddenly burst upwards at great speed, with a distinctive "whirring" wing sound and often giving kok kok kok
calls to alert conspecifics. Their flight speed is only 43-61 km/h (27-38 mph) when cruising but when chased
they can fly up to 90 km/h (56 mph).
Common pheasants feed solely on the ground in scrapes, lined with some grass and leaves, frequently under
dense cover or a hedge. Occasionally they will nest in a haystack, or old nest left by other birds; but they
roost in sheltered trees at night. The males are polygynous as is typical for many Phasianidae, and are often
accompanied by a harem of several females. Common pheasants nest on the ground, producing a clutch of around
8-15, sometimes as many as 18, but usually 10 to 12 eggs, pale olive in colour, over a 2-3 week period in
April to June. The incubation period is about 22-26 or 27 days. The chicks stay near the hen for several
weeks, yet leave the nest when only a few hours old. After hatching they grow quickly, flying after 12-14
days, resembling adults by only 15 weeks of age.
They eat a wide variety of animal and vegetable type-food, like fruit, seeds, grain, mast, berries and
leaves as well as a wide range of invertebrates, such as leatherjackets, ant eggs, wireworms, caterpillars,
grasshoppers and other insects; with small vertebrates like lizards, field voles, small mammals, and small
birds occasionally taken.