What is a Pheasant?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A pheasant is a large bird in the order Galliformes. Pheasants are among the more well-known of the birds in this order, which also includes chickens, turkeys, and partridges, among many others. In some regions of the world, pheasants are prized game birds, and they are also raised in captivity as ornamental birds and for their meat. Pheasant is a common offering on the menu in Europe, and the meat can sometimes be purchased through specialty butchers.

Pheasants are one creature that hunters enjoy tracking.
Pheasants are one creature that hunters enjoy tracking.

Pheasants are among the larger of the Galliformes, and they are distinguished by their long, flowing tails, heavy bodies, and lengthy necks. Male pheasants are often bedecked in very bright, colorful plumage which is considered quite attractive by many fans of these birds, while the females tend to be more drab in color. Like their relatives, pheasants are capable of roosting and they do generally roost at night, but they spend most of their active hours on the ground, scratching through grass and leaf litter for insects, seeds, and small plants to eat.

These birds originate in Asia, where there is a long culture of raising and hunting pheasants. Pheasants can be seen in numerous works of Asian art, with many painters preferring the more brightly colored males, and they slowly worked their way across the continent to Europe and later North America. Some notable pheasant species include golden pheasants, ring-necked pheasants, green pheasants, common pheasants, white-eared pheasants, and peacock pheasants, among others; there are around 35 pheasant species, all told.

Pheasants prefer wooded areas, as a general rule, using scrub and trees for shelter from the elements and from predators. The birds tend to live in large flocks known as wyes which are overseen by a single cock pheasant, laying eggs in nests on the ground. While pheasants can fly, they can only fly for short distances, resorting to flight only when startled. Unwary humans may be startled themselves if they stumble upon a pheasant, as the birds rise explosively from the ground in a twisting motion while giving an alarm call when they are frightened.

Pheasants are among the most heavily hunted of the game birds, with some regions of the world having preserves and parks set aside specifically for the purpose of hunting. Seasonal shoots are very popular in these areas, with the cream of society typically arriving to take part in the shoot, and the birds are managed by gamekeepers who keep an eye on the health and population level of the birds. Gamekeepers also discourage poaching of the birds under their care.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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