Pheasants are not native to Britain: it’s thought that the Romans first brought them here.
The nearest genuine wild pheasants to Britain can be found in Romania, in the Danube Delta.
More than 30 different races of the pheasant have been described. In some, the cocks have black necks, in others ring necks, while some have white wings.
Many different races have been imported and released in Britain, so our resulting stock is mongrel, the majority showing the features of several races.
An “old English” pheasant refers to a bird without the distinctive white neck ring.
Pheasants are released in Britain in huge numbers for shooting. The annual release is probably in excess of 20 million birds.
The value of pheasant shooting to the rural economy can be judged by the fact that on a commercial shoot it costs anything from £25 to £40 to shoot a single pheasant. Bags in excess of 200 in a day are normal.
Pheasants have also been released for shooting in many other countries where they are not native, including North America. Most populations are not self-sustaining, and die out if no further releases take place.
Pheasant shooting has left a lasting mark on the English landscape, with many woods planted in the last 200 years especially as covers for these birds.
Studies have shown that only mature cocks hold territories in prime habitat, usually along the edge of a wood; younger males are forced to live away from the woodland edge.
The cock pheasant proclaims its territory with a distinctive two-syllable crow.
Cocks can also be prompted to crow by distant rumbles of thunder or gunfire. It was said that during the First World War, pheasants in Kent crowed in response to the sound of guns in the Battle of the Somme.
Cocks are also known to be sensitive to the vibrations preceding an earthquake, and there are many records of cocks crowing vigorously before an earthquake.
A successful cock may have a harem of up to half a dozen hens. However, the majority of cocks are less successful, and many fail to breed.
Rival cocks frequently fight: their average duration is 18 minutes.
A cock has nothing more to do with the female after mating, as incubation and chick rearing is exclusively the hen’s job.
A typical clutch can be anything from 2 to 22 eggs, but the largest clutches are usually the result of two hens sharing the same nest.
The chicks can feed themselves soon after hatching, but they will remain with their mother for up to 80 days before becoming independent.
The wing feathers are the first to develop, allowing a chick to fly for the first time when just 12 days old.
The adult’s explosive flight uses a great deal of energy, so birds rarely fly more than 2km.
In the USA, domesticated so-called jumbo pheasants are produced as table birds.