Golden Pheasant Chrysolophus pictus

An introduced species in the UK. Although established for many years, this species is now becoming very scarce in its former stronghold area of the Norfolk Brecks. The first two photos were taken at Wayland Wood Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve when this was one of the best locations in the country to see them but I am not aware of any recent records from here - indeed I only know of a single site where they remain in the Norfolk Brecks now and I've been unable to find them (admittedly in fairly brief searches) at some sites where they were present until recently.

Another well-known and popular location for these is around the Wolferton Triangle in West Norfolk. For many years now it has been known that this population contain birds of the dark-throated form 'obscurus', a variant that occurs among feral and captive birds as a result of mutation*. This population is now quite depleted and can barely be described as self-sustaining; this, together with their mutated appearance, combine to make some people think these birds should not be "counted" as wild birds. However at least one of the few remaining birds in the Norfolk Brecks also shows a dark throat and face, if not as dark as the Wolferton birds then nearly so. In fact even the Wayland bird photographed below shows a darker face than the Tresco birds, so perhaps the Breckland population have been heading this way for some time?

*Contrary to many sources it appears that this mutant form does NOT result from hybridisation with Lady Amherst's Pheasant and that these birds are in fact pure Golden Pheasants. If anyone has any information to the contrary please let me know!

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male Golden Pheasant, Wayland Wood (Norfolk, UK), 23rd March 2002

 

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male Golden Pheasant (var. obscurus), Wolferton Triangle (Norfolk, UK), 27th February 2007

 

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male Golden Pheasant (var. obscurus), Wolferton Triangle (Norfolk, UK), 22nd March 2006. This individual has a broken tail, probably resulting from spending too much time on the road verge! The bird behind it is the immature male shown below.

 

male Golden Pheasant (var. obscurus), Wolferton Triangle (Norfolk, UK), 21st March 2006

 

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immature male Golden Pheasant (var. obscurus), Wolferton Triangle (Norfolk, UK), 22nd March 2006. A rarely photographed plumage (at least I've not seen any photos of a bird like this before, but perhaps I haven't looked hard enough).

 

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male Golden Pheasants (var. obscurus), Wolferton Triangle (Norfolk, UK), 12th January 2010

 

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male Golden Pheasant (var. obscurus), Wolferton Triangle (Norfolk, UK), 20th March 2013

 

A small population has also existed on the island of Tresco in the Scillies for some time, though this is not regarded as self-sustaining and therefore countable. Apparently this population has been boosted by more releases in recent years and they were very easy to find when I visited recently.

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Golden Pheasants, Abbey Gardens, Tresco (Scilly, UK), 2nd October 2007. I had initially assumed that the yellow forecrown of the bottom right bird indicated that this female-like bird was in fact a juvenile male, but if I'm right in thinking the female-like bird from Wolferton (above) is an immature male, it's further advanced (in March) but still doesn't have such a yellow crown. Domestic male Golden Pheasants often appear in an all-yellow form and I've seen a photo of an identical captive bird captioned, "yellow female Golden Pheasant". That might make more sense, or perhaps it's within the range of variation of normal female Golden Pheasants to show a yellow crown. Don't know but I'd welcome comments on this.

 

At least two birds appeared at Sculthorpe Moor reserve recently; their origin is unknown but it is believed that they were deliberately released there one night.

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Golden Pheasant, Sculthorpe Moor (Norfolk, UK), 7th March 2009

 

I was looking for naturalised Golden Pheasants when I heard this bird calling but was disappointed when I eventually located it... in a pen!

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captive Golden Pheasant, near Thompson Water (Norfolk, UK), 23rd April 2016

 

 

The following bird had either escaped or perhaps it belonged to the owners of the garden it was seen in. It was later reported as a Golden Pheasant and looks very much like one, but there are some anomalies which lead me to believe it is probably a hybrid with Lady Amherst's Pheasant. Note the whitish colour of the ruff and the grey legs, both Lady A features. Some hybrids between these two species are very distinctive and I suspect that those less obvious birds that resemble one or other parent species are backcrossed.

Another possibility might be that this is a pure Golden Pheasant with some kind of colour abnormality - this could explain why the crown is pale (typically redder on hybrids, not paler). I'm not aware of any single colour abnormality that would explain both the pale crown, the whitish ruff and the grey legs though so for now I'm favouring the hybrid explanation - a large proportion of captive Golden and Lady Amherst's Pheasants are in fact hybrids. Comments welcome though, as always.

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Probable hybrid Golden Pheasant x Lady Amherst's Pheasant (probably backcrossed with Golden Pheasant), Happisburgh (Norfolk, UK), 10th November 2011 (or possibly just an aberrant Golden Pheasant)