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The Golden Pheasant – a Gorgeous yet Hardy Aviary Bird

As a small boy leafing through books on exotic birds from faraway lands, I recall being awe-stuck by a bird that, to me, symbolized all that was wild, foreign, beautiful and unknown – the golden pheasant (Chrysolphus pictus). The long-tailed males, which display gold, deep red, rust, blue, tan, orange, green, scarlet, yellow and chestnut feathers, are among the most richly-colored of all birds.

Beautiful and Tough

I was indeed amazed to learn, years later, that these central China natives are among the most commonly kept of all pheasants, and were quite reasonably priced.

Furthermore, although brilliant plumage had always signaled “delicate” to my inexperienced mind, golden pheasants are amazingly tough birds. Evolved to endure frigid winters in mountainous habitats, an open-sided shelter easily saw them through New York winters. In fact, hot summers prove more of a threat.

Natural History

Golden and the closely related Lady Amherst’s pheasants (C. amherstiae) are also called ruffed pheasants, due to the brilliant cape that encircles the nape. Courting males raise the ruff and leap about the hens, first on one side, then the other. Some populations appear to be monogamous, but most observers report that males mate with 6-8 hens in the wild.

Golden pheasants are native to the highlands of central and northwestern China, where their range overlaps with that of a familiar US transplant, the ring-necked pheasant. Shy and wary, it is said that the males’ striking colors are visible over great distances on clear days.

Captive History and Care

Goldens may be the earliest pheasants to have been taken into captivity, and have been well known in East Asian aviculture for centuries. They were brought to North America in the mid 1700’s, and were reportedly kept by George Washington.

Experienced aviculturists often recommend golden pheasants as excellent starter species. They adjust well to modestly sized outdoor aviaries and invariably become exceedingly tame. A trio that I kept was as confiding as chickens, even while nesting. Although usually kept in pairs, a trio or male and 3 hens is preferable, as males often drive a single hen incessantly and interfere with rearing the chicks.

Golden pheasants have been hybridized with cheer, silver, Reeve’s, Caucus and green pheasants, and even with domestic hens! Only golden/Lady Amherst crosses are consistently fertile, however.


Further Reading

You can read more about golden pheasants in the wild at http://www.gamebird.com/pheasantgolden2.html.

Image referenced from Wikipedia and first posted by Magnus Manske.

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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