- History and Culture
The common pheasant Phasianus colchicus is a bird of the pheasant family of Phasianidae native to Asia and introduced to Mauritius and other parts of the world as a game bird. It is believed to be among the most widespread and ancient game birds in the world, and the most hunted one. In some areas it is raised on game farms where it is considered semi-domesticated. Differences in appearance are important between males and females. Males exhibit striking plumage, with barred bright gold or copper red. Wing coverage is sometimes white or cream and the tail has black-barred markings, and are considerably larger than females, while the latter have a dull brown plumage all over. Juveniles birds resemble females with a shorter tail until they are aged about 10 weeks, after which males grow their characteristic plumage.
The common pheasant’s native habitat ranges from between the Black and Caspian Seas to Manchuria, Siberia, Korea, Mainland China, and Taiwan. The species dwells in woodland, farmland, scrub, and wetlands. Grasslands near water with small copses of trees are preferred. They are not well suited to extensively cleared farmland.
Common pheasants are gregarious birds, forming loose flocks outside of the breeding season. In areas where they are hunted, they associate humans with danger, they exhibit timid behaviour and will quickly seek safety once aware of the presence of humans. Although they are able to fly short distances, they tend to run. They can attain speeds of up to 90 kilometers per hour when chased but will usually fly at speeds of 43 to 61 kilometers per hour.
Where it is introduced it is an opportunistic omnivore, feeding on a diverse range of food, preferring large, energy rich items such as cultivated grains, mast and fruits.
During the breeding season, males are polygynous and may mate with several females. The latter will lay 8 to 15 eggs at a time which will be incubated over a period of 2 to 3 weeks. They nest on the ground in shallow depressions lined with grass and leaves, usually hidden by a dense cover or hedge, but will roost in trees at night. After the chicks have hatched, they will leave the nest within a few hours but will stay near the hens for several weeks. They will fledge after 12 to 14 days and start resembling adults at 15 weeks.
In their introduced range throughout Europe, common pheasants are widespread and wild populations are augmented with captive bred birds for hunting.
In part of its native range, severe habitat fragmentation and degradation as well as hunting have brought it to near extinction; however according to the IUCN there is no reliable information on its status.
Pheasants were first introduced to Mauritius in the 1970s, where attempts at creating a feral population were made without success. Birds found are usually bred and released.