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Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

The Common Pheasant is one of the most easily recognised of all British game birds, often seen as a visitor to domestic gardens, and is common on the North York Moors. A native of Asia it has been introduced into most areas of the world (other than Africa), and is also one of the most commonly hunted game birds.

Pheasant on GateThe adult male bird is 2-3ft long including the tail, which accounts for half of the length. The feathers have a gold and brown barred pattern, with green, purple and white markings. Colour variations are common as there are a number of different sub species. The Pheasant's dark green (almost black) head with a small crest and red wattle is its most distinctive feature, with most birds having a white neck ring.

Female pheasants are a mottled light brown with a spotty pattern and blend well into a woodland habitat. The females are about 30% smaller than the male, and with a smaller tail.

The young of both sexes resemble the female until they reach ten weeks of age, when the males begin to develop their distinctive colouring.

Side view of common pheasantThe Common Pheasant is known as the 'Chinese Pheasant' in the United States, and sometimes as the 'mountain chicken' in China, where there are numerous other species of pheasant.

The Common Pheasant can only fly for short distances, but is capable of reaching 60mph in short bursts, using this speed to evade predators when flying from cover. The Pheasant is a ground feeder, eating fruits, seeds, leaves, insects, small reptiles, mammals and even young birds.

The Common Pheasant is normally alone or as a breeding pair (they can often be seen in roadside fields around the edge of the North York Moors). They will also form small flocks on occasion, while some males will have a harem of several females.

Common Pheasants make their nests on the ground, where they lay a dozen eggs between April and June. Incubation takes three and a half weeks, and the young resemble the adults within fifteen weeks (by September-November).

The Common Pheasant arrived in Britain in the 10th century AD, but didn't become a popular game bird until the early 19th century. According to the RSPB there are currently 1.9 million female pheasants in the UK, and the bird is mostly to be found in open countryside near woodland. They are rare in urban and upland areas, and are not found in the far north or west of Scotland.

The Common Pheasant is farmed by gamekeepers, and the shooting season runs from 1st October-1st February. They are shot for sport, but are also eaten, benefiting from a period of hanging (Supermarket Pheasants rarely benefit from this).