Pheasant

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Phasianus colchicus

The Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), is a bird in the pheasant family (Phasianidae). It is native to Georgia (Ancient Colchis) 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 which 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;[1] 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 US state birds that is not a species native to the United States.

DESCRIPTION There are many color forms of the male Common Pheasant, ranging in color 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.[2] Body weight can range from 0.5 to 3 kg (1.1-6.6 lb), with males averaging 1.2 kg (2.6 lb) and females averaging 0.9 kg (2 lb).[3][4]

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 and brown plumage with green, purple and white markings. 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.

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 (8 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.

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).

TAXONOMY & SYSTEMATICS This species was first scientifically described by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758 under its current scientific name. The Common Pheasant is distinct enough from any other species known to Linnaeus for a laconic [Phasianus] rufus, capîte caeruleo – "a red pheasant with blue head" – to serve as entirely sufficient description. Moreover, the bird had been extensively discussed before Linnaeus established binomial nomenclature. His sources are the Ornithologia of Ulisse Aldrovandi,[5] Giovanni Pietro Olina's Uccelliera,[6] John Ray's Synopsis methodica Avium & Piscium,[7] and A natural history of the birds by Eleazar Albin.[8] Therein – essentially the bulk of the ornithology textbooks of his day – the species is simply named "the pheasant" in the books' respective languages. Whereas in other species, such as the Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), Linnaeus felt it warranted to cite plumage details from his sources, in the Common Pheasant's case he simply referred to the reason of the bird's fame: principum mensis dicatur. The type locality is given simply as "Africa, Asia".[9]

However, the bird does not occur in Africa, except perhaps in Linnaeus' time in Mediterranean coastal areas where they might have been introduced during the Roman Empire. The type locality was later fixed to the Rioni River – known as Phasis to the Ancient Greeks – where the westernmost population occurs. These birds, until the modern era, constituted the bulk of the introduced stock in Europe; the birds described by Linnaeus' sources, though typically belonging to such early introductions, would certainly have more alleles in common with the transcaucasian population than with others. The scientific name is Latin for "Pheasant from Colchis", colchicus referring to the west of modern-day Georgia;[10] the Ancient Greek term corresponding to the English "pheasant" is Phasianos ornis (Φασιανὸς ὂρνις), "bird of the river Phasis".[11] Although Linnaeus included many Galliformes in his genus Phasianius – such as the domestic chicken and its wild ancestor the Red Junglefowl, nowadays Gallus gallus –, today only the Common and the Green Pheasant are placed in this genus. As the latter was not known to Linnaeus in 1758, the Common Pheasant is naturally the type species of Phasianus.

In the USA, Common Pheasants are widely known as "Ring-necked Pheasants". More colloquial North American names include "chinks" or, in Montana, "phezzens".[12] 

SUBSPECIES There are about 30 subspecies in five (sometimes six) groups.[15] These can be identified according to the male plumage, namely presence or absence of a white neck-ring and the color of the uppertail (rump) and wing coverts. As noted above, introduced population in our time mix the alleles of various races in various amounts, differing according to the original stock used for introductions and what natural selection according to climate and habitat has made of that.

Sometimes this species is split into the Central Asian Common and the East Asian Ring-necked Pheasants, roughly separated by the arid and high mountainous regions of Turkestan. However, while the western and eastern populations probably were entirely separate during the Zyryanka glaciation when deserts were more extensive,[16] this separation was not long enough for actual speciation to occur. Today, the largest variety of color patterns is found where the western and eastern populations mix, as is to be expected. Females usually cannot be identified even to subspecies group with certainty.

Common Pheasants were introduced in North America in 1881,[22][23] and have become well established throughout much of the Rocky Mountain states (Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, etc.), the Midwest, the Plains states, as well as Canada and Mexico. In the southwest, they can even be seen south of the Rockies in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge 100 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is now most common on the Great Plains. Common Pheasants have also been introduced to much of north-west Europe, the Hawaiian Islands, Chile, St Helena, Tasmania, New Zealand and Rottnest Island off Australia. It has also been unsuccessfully introduced to many other countries.

PHEASANT HUNTING IN NORTH AMERICA Most common pheasants bagged in the United States are wild-born feral pheasants; in some states[28] captive-reared and released birds make up much of the population[29]

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 create ideal habitat. South Dakota alone has an annual harvest of over a million birds a year by over 150,000 hunters.[30] Much of the North American hunting is done by groups of hunters with flushing dogs such as Labrador Retrievers and Springer Spaniels walking through fields and shooting the birds as they take flight. There are also many hunters who use Pointers such as English Setters or German Shorthairs to find and hold pheasants for hunters to flush and shoot.

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