PHEASANT (Mid. Eng. fesaunt and fesaun; Ger. fasan and anciently fasant; Fr. faisan—all from the Lat. phasianus or phasiana, sc. avis), the bird brought from the banks of the river Phasis, now the Rioni, in Colchis, where it is still abundant, and introduced, according to legend, by the Argonauts into Europe. Judging from the recognition of the remains of several species referred to the genus Phasianus both in Greece and in France,[1] it seems not impossible that the ordinary pheasant, the P. colchicus of ornithologists, may have been indigenous to this quarter of the globe. If it was introduced into England, it must almost certainly have been brought by the Romans;[2] for, setting aside several earlier records of doubtful authority,[3] Stubbs has shown that by the regulations of King Harold in 1059 unus phasianus is prescribed as the alternative of two partridges or other birds among the “pitantiae” (rations or commons, as we might now say) of the canons of Waltham Abbey, and, as W. B. Dawkins has remarked (Ibis, 1869, p. 358), neither Anglo-Saxons nor Danes were likely to have introduced it into England. It seems to have been early under legal protection, for, according to Dugdale, a licence was granted in the reign of Henry I. to the abbot of Amesbury to kill hares and pheasants, and from the price at which the latter are reckoned in various documents, we may conclude that they were not very abundant for some centuries, and also that they were occasionally artificially reared and fattened, as appears from Upton,[4] who wrote about the middle of the 15th century, while Henry VIII. seems from his privy purse expenses to have had in his household in 1532 a French priest as a regular “fesaunt breder,” and in the accounts of the Kytsons of Hengrave in Suffolk for 1607 mention is made of wheat to feed pheasants, partridges and quails.

The practice of bringing up pheasants by hand is now extensively followed, and the numbers so reared vastly exceed those that are bred at large. The eggs are collected from birds that are either running wild or kept in pens, and are placed under domestic hens; but, though these prove most attentive foster mothers, much additional care on the part of their keepers is needed to ensure the arrival at maturity of the poults; for, being necessarily crowded in a comparatively small space, they are subject to several diseases which often carry off a large proportion, to say nothing of the risk they run by not being provided with proper food, or by meeting an early death from various predatory animals attracted by the assemblage of so many helpless victims. As they advance in age the young pheasants readily take to a wild life, and indeed can only be kept from wandering in every direction by being plentifully supplied with food, which has to be scattered for them in the coverts in which it is desired that they should stay. The proportion of pheasants artificially bred that “come to the gun” would seem to vary enormously, not only irregularly according to the weather, but regularly according to the district. In the eastern counties of England, and some other favourable localities, perhaps three-fourths of those that are hatched may be satisfactorily accounted for; but in many of the western counties, though they are the objects of equal or even greater care, it would seem that more than half of the number that live to grow their feathers disappear inexplicably before the coverts are beaten. For the sport of pheasant-shooting see Shooting.

Formerly pheasants were taken in snares or nets, and by hawking, but the crossbow was also used, and the better to obtain a “ sitting shot,”—for with that weapon men had not learnt to “ shoot flying ”—dogs appear to have been employed in the way indicated by the lines under an engraving by Hollar, who died in 1677:—

     " The Feasant Cooke the woods doth most frequent,
       Where Spaniells spring and pearche him by the sent."[5]

Of the many other species of the genus Phasianus, two only can be dwelt upon here. These are the ring-necked pheasant of China, P. torquatus, easily known by the broad white collar, whence it has its name, as well as by the pale greyish-blue of its upper wing-coverts and rump and the light buff of its flanks, and the P. versicolor of Japan, often called the green pheasant from the beautiful tinge of that colour that in certain lights pervades almost the whole of its plumage, and, deepening into dark emerald, occupies all the breast and lower surface that in the common and Chinese birds is bay barred with glossy black scallops. Both of these species have been introduced into England, and cross freely with P. colchicus, while the hybrids of each with the older inhabitants of the woods are not only perfectly fertile inter se, but cross as freely with the other hybrids, so that birds are frequently found in which the blood of the three species is mingled. The hybrids of the first cross are generally larger than either of their parents, but the superiority of size does not seem to be maintained by their descendants. White and pied varieties of the common pheasant, as of most birds, often occur, and with a little care a race or breed of each can be perpetuated. A much rarer variety is sometimes seen; this is known as the Bohemian pheasant, not that there is the least reason to suppose it has any right to such an epithet, for it appears, as it were, accidentally among a stock of the pure P. colchicus, and offers an example analogous to that of the Japan peafowl (see Peacock), being, like that breed, capable of perpetuation by selection. Two other species of pheasant have been introduced to the coverts of England—P. reevesi from China, remarkable for its very long tail, white with black bars, and the copper pheasant, P. soemmerringi, from Japan. The well-known gold and silver pheasants, P. pictus and P. nycthemerus, each the type of a distinct section or subgenus, are both from China and have long been introduced into Europe, but are only fitted for the aviary. To the former is allied the still more beautiful P. amherstiae, and to the latter about a dozen more species, most of them known to Indian sportsmen by the general name of “ kaleege.” The comparatively plain pucras pheasants, Pucrasia, the magnificent monauls, Lophophorus, and the fine snow-pheasants, Crossoptilum—of each of which genera there are several species, may also be mentioned.

All the species known at the time are beautifully figured from drawings by J. Wolf in D. G. Elliot's Monograph of the Phasiandae (2 vols., fol., 1870–1872)—the last term being used in a somewhat general sense. With a more precise scope W. B. Tegetmeier's Pheasants: their Natural History and Practical Management (4th ed., 1904) is to be commended as a very useful work.  (A. N.) 

  1. These are P. archiaci from Pikermi, P. altus and P. medius from the lacustrine beds of Sansan, and P. desnoyersi from Touraine, see A. Milne Edwards, Ois. foss. de la France (ii. 229, 239–243).
  2. Undoubted remains have been found in excavations at Silchester.
  3. Among these perhaps that worthy of most attention is in Probert's translation of The Ancient Laws of Cambria (ed. 1823, pp. 367, 368), wherein extracts are given from Welsh triads, presumably of the age of Howel the Good, who died in 948. One of them is, “There are three barking hunts: a bear, a squirrel and a pheasant.” The explanation is, “A pheasant is called a barking hunt, because when the pointers come upon it and chase it, it takes to a tree, where it is hunted by baiting.” The present writer has not been able to trace the manuscript containing these remarkable statements so as to find out the original word rendered “pheasant" by the translator, but a reference to what is probably the same passage with the same meaning is given by Ray (Synops. meth. animalium, pp. 213, 214) on the authority of Llwyd or Lloyd, though there is no mention of it in Wotton and Clarke's Leges Wallicae (1730). A charter (Kemble, Cod. diplom. iv. 236), professedly of Edward the Confessor, granting the wardenship of certain forests in Essex to Ralph Peperking, speaks of “fesant hen" and “fesant cocke," but is now known to be spurious.
  4. In his De studio militari (not printed till 1654) he states (p. 195) that the pheasant was brought from the East by "Palladius accost."
  5. Quoted by the writer (Broderip ?) of the article “Spaniel” in the Penny Cyclopaedia. The lines throw light on the asserted Welsh practice mentioned in a former note.