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Feature Articles

Golden and lady Amhersts Pheasants

Golden Pheasant male.
Golden Pheasant male.

by Katrina Jury

Two species make up the genus Chrysolophus, one being The Golden Pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus) and the other the Lady Amhersts' Pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae).

A close look at the ruffles on the head of a Lady Amherst male.
A close look at the ruffles on the head of a Lady Amherst male.

The birds in this genus are also refererred to as Ruffed Pheasants, which describes the Cape or Ruff of feathers which the cock birds spread around their faces and neck during the courtship display.

The Golden's native habitat is the inaccessible mountain slopes,ledges and rocky hills of China, covered in scrub, bamboo and heavily forrested areas. In this harsh environment, the Golden is apparently wary and usually well concealed, making it difficult to observe and therefore record information from the wild on the species. Many zoos and birdparks throughout the world maintain captive populations along with private breeders, where the birds are known to be of quiet disposition and are ideal for mixed collections.

The Lady Amhersts Pheasant is native to parts of Tibet, China and Burma. Living at high altitudes, they are known to inhabit scrub covered mountainous areas between 7000 and 12000 ft, and are resistant to cold, damp conditions. The Lady Amherst is a slightly larger bird than the Golden and more aggressive towards intruders to its territory.

Lady Amherst Pair
Lady Amherst Pair

The males of both species are some of the most brilliantly coloured of all birds. Certainly amongst our collection, "Goldie" (now 12 years old) is a firm favourite with visitors, as his plumage and tendency to display to anyone who takes an interest can be quite a spectacle. Rich, glossy shades of copper,green,black,gold orange and white with blue/black tips to the feathers combine to shroud the males with breathtaking beauty.

While the hens of both species lack the colouration of their mates, they are still a beautiful graceful bird to watch. She is generally a rich brown with darker barring and a buff face and throat. Immature males resemble hens until the moult at 12 months old, when their true colours become evident. The young poults can be sexed by checking their eye colour - the hens have a dark brown eye and the young cock birds a silver eye.

Mutations of the Golden Pheasant have been developed, including the Yellow Golden which is a lovely "butter to canary yellow" bird with the same stature as the normal golden. The hens are also pale yellow unlike the normal hens. Yellow and Black Caped Goldens are readily available from breeders in NZ. These birds are mutations, not hybrids developed from inter species matings. The Golden will cross readily with the Lady Amherst and apparently, Silver and Reeves, with fertile cocks and sterile hens the result.

Mutation Gold, Golden Pheasant
Mutation Gold, Golden Pheasant

Our pheasants are kept in a variety of accomodations, mainly breeding pens approx 2.4 x 6m, with a soft shade cloth roof. They enjoy a grassed and planted run, but soon decimate any or all cover you might provide. High perches are favoured, both in a house area and out in the runs. More often than not they will roost outdoors even in a howling gale. Cool shade must be provided during the heat of the day. Tree stumps and brush are great places for nesting and for hiding from aggressive partners. Both the Golden and the Amherst have been kept here from time to time in smaller flights with other birds with no trouble, but in smaller avairies the birds long tails become damaged.

The breeding season generally starts here in November and the removal of eggs daily encourages the hens to lay for up to 4-5 weeks. Some hens will lay only a clutch of 5-12 eggs while others will lay on and off during the season producing up to 30 eggs. As pheasants are not wonderful mothers, the eggs are incubated artificially or under bantams for 22-23 days.

Golden and Amherst chicks are easy to raise on a good quality chicken or gamebird starter, progressing to a finisher as they move out of the brooders. I also feed boiled eggs, mashed and fed including the shells for additional calcium. The young poults also love green food from an early age.

Pair of Golden Pheasants
Pair of Golden Pheasants

Pheasants do well on a diet of mixed grain(whole and kibbled maize, wheat and oats) greens fruit and vegetables when in abundance. We provide a mixed diet all year round, but before and during the breeding season and the moult , layers pellets and split peas form the biggest percentage of the feed. This is to provide adequete protein and a balanced formulation of a breeders diet to ensure good quality eggs for hatching. Often changes to their diet may take some acceptance, but usually little food is wasted.

I would have no hesitation in recommending any one intersted in keeping pheasants to start off with either of these species. We did........ and now keep over 200 different birds!!!!!!!

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