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Common Pheasant

Latin Name: Phasianus colchicus

A large, long tailed game bird, seen across the majority of the UK, except the far north and west of Scotland, in open countryside near woodland edges, copses and hedgerows. They are in fact native to Asia and were introduced to the UK long ago for breeding as a game bird to satisfy those who like to shoot them for sport. As well as being wild it is the most popular breed for game farms and for this reason is one of the world's most hunted birds. The male comes in many colours although the most common seen the UK is the colourful Ring-Necked Pheasant, a collective name for a subspecies and their cross breeds.

They were first introduced into Britain in the 10th century, but became locally extinct in the early 17th century. It was rediscovered as a game bird in the 1830's and since has been extensively reared by gamekeepers. They are bred to be hunted in Europe, and especially the UK. A hunt takes the form of paying guns waiting for the birds to be driven over them by beaters. The open season in the UK is October-February, under the Game Act 1831. It was a popular royal pastime in Britain to shoot Common Pheasants. King George V shot over a thousand pheasants out of a total bag of 3937 over a six day period in December 1913, a total which still stands as the British record. Farmed birds are also supplied to restaurants and butchers for human consumption and it is estimated that UK farms have some 35 million birds.

You will see them in the countryside in fields, sat on hedges, on the side of roads and sometimes in gardens if food is in plentiful supply. As well as being shot their other form of death is be road kill, being hit by something on the roads either when crossing on foot, or when flying over hedgerows.


Males: Are very colourful with a chestnut brown body and golden-brown iridescent markings on body and tail. They have a green head and neck, although the throat and cheeks are glossed purple and they have a white band at the base of the neck, small ear tufts, and a red face and wattle. Females: are buff coloured with darker mottled markings. Juvenile males have the appearance of the female until about 10 weeks after hatching when they begin to grow their bright feathers on breast, head and back.

Animal Facts

In Britain: All Year Round

Life Span: It is thought they do not survive longer than a year, maximum recorded age is 2 years and 1 month.

Statistics: Male 75-90cm long, long tail accounting for 50cm of overall length. Wingspan 80-90cm. Female 53-63cm with 20cm tail. Weight 900-1500kg

Habitat: In natural habitat lives in grassland near water with small copses of trees. In the UK they tend to favour Open countryside near woodland, copses and hedgerows.

Food: Seeds, grain, shoots, fruit, grass, insects, and a wide range of invertebrates like worms, small snakes, lizards etc.

Breeding: There are said to be 1.8-1.9 million breeding females in the UK. They nest on the ground under a hedge or amongst tall grass, producing a clutch of around 10 eggs over a 2-3 week period from April-June. Incubation is 23-26 days, they fledge 12-14 days. Chicks stay near the hen for several weeks and start to resemble adults at 15 weeks.

Conservation Status

Least Concern


Distribution: Most of the UK in open countryside near woodland, copses and hedgerows. Least common in upland and urban areas and are not seen in the far north and west of Scotland.

Behaviour: Females are social birds and outside the breeding season will form loose flocks.  Males tend to be solitary although have a harem of females during the breeding season, which they defend from intruding males with sometimes vicious fights. They are timid and nervous of humans particularly in areas where they are hunted. They are short distance flyers, preferring to run at speed, if startled they can take off upwards at speed, with a distinctive 'whirring' wing sound. Their cruising flight speed is around 27-38mph however if being chased they can fly up to 60mph. They are ground feedings and spend a large part of the day on the ground. At night they shelter/roost in trees.

Conservation Status: Around 30 million are released each year on shooting estates, so there is no concern about numbers. However in the UK are they protected by the Game Acts, giving them protection during the close/breeding season.


See Also

Wikipedia Information

The World Pheasant Association

BTO Bird Facts


By: Tracey Park Section: Birds Key:
Page Ref: pheasant Topic: Wildlife and Animals Last Updated: 04/2009

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