Any of various large, colourful Asiatic fowls of the family Phasianidae, order Galliformes, which also includes grouse, quail, and turkey. The typical pheasants are in the genus Phasianus, which has two species: the Japanese pheasant, P. versicolor, found in Japan, and the Eurasian ring-necked or common pheasant, P. colchicus, also introduced to North America. The genus is distinguished by the very long wedge-shaped tail and the absence of a crest. The plumage of the male common pheasant is richly tinted with brownish-green, yellow, and red markings, but the female is a camouflaged brownish colour. The nest is made on the ground. The male is polygamous.
Among the more exotically beautiful pheasants of other genera, often kept as ornamental birds, are the golden pheasant Chrysolophus pictus and Lady Amherst's pheasant Chrysolophus amherstiae, both from China, and the argus pheasant Argusianus argus of Malaysia, which has metallic spots or ‘eyes’ on the wings.
Reeves's pheasant Symaticus reevesii, a native of China, is over 2 m/6.6 ft in length, and has yellow and brown spangled plumage.
P. colchicus was introduced from Russia and Asia Minor into Europe by the Romans, and to Britain in the 11th century by the Normans. In the greater part of Europe a true, pure-bred common pheasant is rare because of the introduction of other species with which it has freely interbred. Of P. colchicus at least 30 local races are known, including the large Mongolian pheasant with rich red flanks, green gloss on the plumage, and a broad white ring round the neck; and the ring-necked pheasant which, more than any, has hybridized with the common one in Britain.
In Britain approximately 20 million pheasants are raised annually for shooting.
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