Familiarity Breeds Contempt.
All too often we pass familiar sights and spare them hardly a glance as they seem so commonplace. Some Wildlife species fall into this category even though, on closer inspection, they may prove to be inordinately beautiful.
The common Pheasant falls within this group. Pheasant species in general tend to be highly colourful but this is probably more apparent and admired because the normal settings in which one encounters “foreign species” are those of a Zoo or Bird Park where they will be at close quarters. How often though, when driving through the country, do we dismiss those distant birds in a field as “Oh, it’s just some Pheasants”. For sheer natural beauty, and as an example of Nature’s design brilliance, there can be little more striking an image than that of a well exposed close-up shot of a Cock Pheasant in full breeding plumage. The females, too, are equally striking though in a more subdued way. The trick is to get close enough to capture images that show every feather detail.
Pheasants have a lot in life to put up with. Unfortunately for them, properly prepared, they can be very good to eat. In addition they are of a body size that is not too difficult for a trained eye to spot in a wild setting. These two factors have resulted in their being hunted as a food source for centuries. Their seemingly unhurried gliding flight pattern has also contributed to their appeal to the “sport” shooting fraternity as they have not proved too difficult to hit in mid-flight. To compound their misfortune they, in keeping with many Gallinaceous species, have proved easy to breed in captivity. Some publications have their captive breeding as game birds going back as far as Roman times and some even further.
Although the natural areas of distribution of the nominate species lie in Asia and the East they have spread through many areas such as North America and Europe as a result of deliberate introduction principally as Game Birds. Along the way much hybridising experimentation has taken place to the extent that what we now tend to write off as “just a Pheasant” is, in fact, the hybrid result of many generations of intensive cross breeding. I find it hard to believe but Wikipedia quotes the annual UK production at 35 Million birds. I have put the “million” as words lest you think I slipped up with my noughts!!
Most hybrid species are infertile and unable to reproduce naturally but in the case of the Pheasant family this has proved not to be so. As a result what you see in the fields can have a mixed and very varied ancestry, depending on what species were introduced into the bloodline throughout the generations. Hybrid offspring of any species tend to favour one or more of their, in this case many, forbears in inherited characteristics, and, as a result, can often display a significant variation in appearance. This is the case with our Pheasants and it can prove very photographically rewarding to see how many colour forms you can capture images of. The two principal ancestors of our game pheasants are the Ring-Necked Pheasant and the Japanese Green. Both possess strikingly different features and so the potential variations are almost limitless although, in practice, most colour forms do fall within an accepted range.
Gaudy colours of a Reeves Pheasant
Slow Gliding Flight
Pair of Melanistic Pheasants
Pair of typical colour “Game” Pheasants
Pale Coloured Cock
Most colour phase hens very similar
4 Different Phases. Never let them be “Just Pheasants” again