The common pheasant is a bird in the pheasant family.
It is native to Asia and parts of Europe like the northern foothills of Caucasus and the Balkans.
The common pheasant 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 naturalised, 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.
Common pheasants occupy grassland and farmland habitats. They prefer relatively open cover, such as grass and stubble fields and are found in habitats with grass, ditches, hedges, marshes, and tree stands or bushes for cover.
This species was introduced in North America in 1773, and has become well established throughout much of the Rocky Mountain states (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, etc.), the Midwest, the Plains states, as well as Canada and Mexico. It is now most common on the Great Plains.
The common pheasant is a well-known gamebird, among those of more than regional importance perhaps the most widespread and ancient one in the whole world. It is also one of the world’s most hunted birds.
The common pheasant is the 5th most populous bird species in the world.
Its scientific name is Phasianus colchicus. The genus name comes from Latin phasianus, “pheasant”. The species name colchicus is Latin for “of Colchis” (modern day Georgia), a country on the Black Sea where pheasants became known to Europeans.
There are about 30 subspecies of the common pheasant.
The lifespan of the common pheasant is about 1-2 years in the wild and up to 18 years in captivity.
Common pheasants are medium-sized birds with deep, pear-shaped bodies, small heads and long, thin tails.
The adult male common pheasant is 60–90 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 female (hen) is 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).
These birds are diurnal (active during the day).
They spend most of their time on the ground and roost both on the ground and in trees.
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 up to 60 km/h (37 mph) when cruising but when chased they can fly up to 90 km/h (56 mph).
When startled, common pheasants rise almost vertically with a loud whirring of wings.
Common pheasants are social birds. In the autumn, they flock together, sometimes in large groups in areas with food and cover. Usually the core home range is smaller in the winter than during the nesting season. Flocks formed in the winter may be mixed or single-sexed and may have up to 50 pheasants.
These birds are polygynous, with a single male having a harem of several females. They breed seasonally. Common pheasants nest 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 they roost in sheltered trees at night.
Common pheasants a clutch of around 8-15 eggs – they are pale olive in color, and laid over a 2–3 week period in April to June. The incubation period is about 22–27 days. The chicks stay near the hen for several weeks, yet leave the nest when only a few hours old. They grow quickly, flying after 12–14 days, resembling adults by only 15 weeks of age.
Common pheasants were common in Greece during the classical period and it is a widespread myth that the Greeks brought pheasants to the Balkans when they colonized Colchis in the Caucasus. This colonization happened during the 6th century BC, but pheasant archaeological remains in the Balkans are much older dating to 6th millennium BC.
At least since the Roman Empire, the bird was extensively introduced in many places and has become a naturalized member at least of the European fauna.
The bird was naturalized in Great Britain around AD 1059, but may have been introduced by the Romano-British centuries earlier.
Common pheasants are bred to be hunted and are shot in great numbers in Europe, especially the UK, where they are shot on the traditional formal “driven shoot” principles, whereby paying guns have birds driven over them by beaters, and on smaller “rough shoots”.
Pheasant hunting is very popular in much of the U.S., especially in the Great Plains states, where a mix of farmland and native grasslands provides ideal habitat. South Dakota alone has an annual harvest of over a million birds a year by over 200,000 hunters.
The common 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.