pheasant, common name for some members of a family (Phasianidae) of henlike birds related to the grouse and including the Old World partridge, the peacock, various domestic and jungle fowls, and the true pheasants (genus Phasianus). Pheasants are characterized by their wattled heads and long tails and by the brilliant plumage and elaborate courtship displays of the male. They are all indigenous to Asia, chiefly India. The English pheasant, introduced from the Black Sea area before 1056, has been interbred with both the Chinese ring-necked and the Japanese pheasants, and the hybrid ring-necked pheasant, Phasianus colchicus, is established as a common game bird in the N United States. It eats berries, seeds, young shoots, and insects and prefers open country with brush cover. The body of the male ring-necked pheasant is mostly reddish brown, the head and neck an iridescent dark green, the face red, and the neck ringed with white. The protectively colored hen is distinguished from the grouse by her long tail. The closely related ruffed grouse is called pheasant in the central and S United States. Asian pheasants of great beauty are the argus (Argusianus argus), the golden (Chrysolophus pictus), the silver (Gennaeus nycthemerus), and the Lady Amherst (C. amherstiae), all of which inhabit the Himalayas?as do the Reeves pheasant (Syrmaticus reevesii), with an 8-ft (2.4-m) tail, the unique tree-dwelling Impeyan pheasant (Tophophorus impejanus), and the tragopan, or horned, pheasant (Tragopan temmincki). Pheasants are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Galliformes, family Phasianidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Vertebrate Zoology