Apparently, there is a traditional Chinese saying that seeing one pheasant in the wild is better than seeing ten other birds. While this already stretches credulity, the saying continues to state that seeing one mammal is better than seeing ten pheasants (Bella from Alpinebirding indeed confirmed that this saying exists and has not just come to me in a dream. Bella, you owe me at least one beer on our next trip for mentioning your company here without any real need to do so).
Of course, this is nonsense – pheasants are probably among the most overrated of all birds. The pimps of the avian world. I’d rather see one shy pitta or robin than ten overconfident, arrogant pheasants.
Somehow, I feel this post about the few pheasants I have seen in China has gotten off to a wrong start – not quite the kind of motivation to blog readers to continue reading this post. A bit like a management consultant telling a client that there is not a lot he can do for them. Wait, does that remind me of anyone? Never mind.
So, back to the wonderful world of pheasants in China. My favorite is the Blood Pheasant.
Of course, we all remember Edward Blood (1908-1991), the American skier who competed in the Nordic combined events at the 1932 and the 1936 Winter Olympics (source).
What is a bit less obvious is why anybody would name a Chinese pheasant after an American skier. So I set myself the challenge to get to the bottom of this.
Surprisingly, it turns out there is no connection between the pheasant and the skier at all. The name of the bird apparently comes from the color of its tail feathers.
The Latin species name of the Kalij Pheasant is leucomelanos, meaning “white” (leukos) and “black” (melanos, both Greek words). Hard to see how a non-colorblind naturalist could have given this name to a bird that is mostly dark blue with some prominent red parts.
A bit surprisingly (at least to me), the Kalij Pheasant has been introduced and established as a gamebird in Hawaii. This turned out to be nice for one researcher who thus could do the research for her Ph.D. thesis on the “Social Behavior and Cooperative Breeding of Kalij Pheasants” in a place with much nicer sanitary facilities than where I saw the bird (in rural Yunnan).
I feel that thanking your own baby for moral support in the acknowledgment section of a Ph.D. thesis – as she did – is a bit much though.
Interestingly, in her work, the researcher found that the birds live in small groups dominated by a single male. That is kind of the opposite of the work split described in the acknowledgment section of her thesis, where she states that during her research, her husband was “a reliable lab assistant, field assistant, computer technician and car mechanic for me”.
The Golden Pheasant also seems a bit misnamed – the Latin species name pictus (painted) gives a much better indication of the species’ color variety.
For the female, neither “painted” nor “golden” works particularly well, but “painted” still seems a bit more suitable.
If you cannot afford gold, maybe go for a Silver Pheasant instead. And yes – it does not look particularly silvery either but sounds better than White Pheasant (as usual, females need not apply in the name-giving process).
If a number of Pakistani researchers publish an English language paper in a Russian journal (Russian Journal of Ecology) on a vaguely interesting topic (“Impact of different mating sex ratios on reproductive efficiency of Silver Pheasant“), then the abstract unfortunately ends up being totally incomprehensible, at least to me. A pity.
As a popular game bird, the Ring-necked Pheasant seems to have such high importance in the US that there are several papers just discussing the species in individual US states. Examples:
I particularly like this photo of a female at Nanhui.
If you are interested both in birds and in wargames, maybe you should take a look at the study “Use of Small, Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Mist Nets to Capture Ring-Necked Pheasants”.
The HBW seems to be a bit unsure about how to correctly spell this bird: White Eared Pheasant or White Eared-Pheasant? To be safe, they just use both spellings on the species page. Hm.
Possibly as a consequence of this insecurity, the species is listed as Near Threatened.
The Latin name of the species, Crossoptilon crossoptilon, sounds like a failed Elon Musk venture. A hybrid between a rocket and an electric vehicle, traveling underground, maybe.
The energy that Elliot’s Pheasants need per day depends on the season, or more accurately, the temperature. The daily consumption was lowest in summer with about 260 kJ/day and highest in winter with about 400 kJ/day, more than 50% more (source).
How do you measure this, you may ask? It is easy.
Apparently, you just collect the excrement of captive birds, weigh it and calculate back from there. Just don’t bring up the topic during a dinner with your in-laws.
This particular study ends with the highly motivating remark that “further study is needed to determine whether 29.6 C is the optimal temperature for Elliot’s Pheasant.” I can easily imagine a young person reading this sentence and immediately wanting to become an ornithologist.
The person at eBird describing the Grey Peacock-Pheasant probably stayed up late and watched a horror movie before writing the species entry, which thus reads “a strange-looking pheasant which passes ghostlike through dense forests, seldom venturing into the open”.
As you can guess, the species got its name from the eye pattern on the back of the males.
If you ask a Blue Eared Pheasant how it spends its daytime, if it is a bit on the nerdish side, it may give you a rather specific answer: foraging (40.62%), resting (28.01%), locomotion (19.17%), and guarding (12.55%). Though the last figure may be a bit higher for male nerd birds and lower for female nerd birds, who spend more time on feeding (source: HBW).
Irrelevant side note: It seems that in English-language papers by Chinese authors, the species is often referred to as “Blue-eared Pheasant” (see for example here). These Chinese authors should have taken a look at the (extremely white) “ears” of the pheasant first.
Bonus note for science nerds (not related specifically to birds): Whenever Chinese researchers give percentages, they do so up to two digits behind the decimal – thus the exact percentages in the HBW citation above. Of course, in Western scientific papers, the idea is that the number of digits is an indication of how exact the results are – so, a percentage indication of 33% would mean the figure is less exact than a figure of 33.00%. So, if the paper above had been written by a Western researcher, the percentages given would have been something like “foraging (41%), resting (28%), locomotion (19%) and guarding (13%)”.