Bird Watch – Pheasant

The common pheasant.

The common pheasant. Photograph courtesy of Christchurch photographer, Steve Attwood.



The common pheasant Phasianus colchicus Linnaeus, was introduced to New Zealand in 1842 and after further releases, was well established in both islands by 1870. It is also known as the ring-necked pheasant, the English pheasant and the Chinese pheasant, and its Māori name is peihana.


Although pheasants are more common in the warmer regions of the North Island, they are present in the south around Nelson, around some coastal riverbeds and in a few isolated habitats in Canterbury – this includes around Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere.


They prefer a wide variety of open habitats including grasslands, arable and pastoral farmland plus exotic forestry stands, woodlands, coastal shrub land and along roadside verges. But don’t expect them to stand around once spotted. They’re shy, they have very good hearing and sight and they’re always ready to escape – especially from hunters.


The New Zealand pheasant population is estimated to be around 250,000 birds and about 50,000 male birds are shot each year during the winter game hunting season. (It is illegal to shoot hen pheasants; they are protected as providers of the following year’s crop). The population is boosted each year by the release of captive-reared birds.


The natural population has never recovered from the natural sudden decline in numbers that followed their initial abundance. This was due to birds eating poisoned grain used for rabbit eradication, followed by the release of stoats and weasels that were intended to hunt rabbits.


The pheasant is the largest of the introduced game-bird species in New Zealand , weighing up to 1.5 kilograms. The male bird is much brighter than the plain-feathered female, boasting a red facial wattle, iridescent blue-green head and neck feathers, a distinctive white collar and a long, barred tail feather. Body feathers are red and brown with black and white markings.

The birds are omnivorous, feeding on foliage, seeds, grains, berries, and invertebrates. Chicks commonly eat insects.



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