Cabot's Tragopan

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Scientific name: Tragopan caboti

Other common names: Yellow-billed Tragopan, Chinese Tragopan

The basics:
The vulnerable Cabot's Tragopan represents two subspecies that hail from the mountain forests in highly populated southeastern China. As the forests vanish in the face of the march of civilization, the birds too are disappearing. Unfortunately, their status in captivity is also fragile. In the early 1970s, they were rated as little-known in aviculture, although they were already observed to be calm, friendly pheasants that deserved more attention from experienced breeders. Today, they are still difficult to find, and the keeper who obtains these special birds has a responsibility to work with others to preserve them for future generations. While it is widely reported around the internet that the chicks can fly as soon as they hatch, it may depend on what your definition of “fly” is – or what “as soon as they hatch” means. However, they can get quite a bit of lift at only 3 days old, so watch out.

The tragopan genus, including the Cabot's Tragopan, is noteworthy for two reasons. First, they are an arboreal group that builds a twig nest in a tree, unlike most pheasants. Second, the male possesses inflatable horns and bib, which you usually can't see, until he goes into his courtship dance.

The interesting looking adult male Cabot's Tragopan has an elegant upper body pattern made up of creamy and chestnut spots encircled in black, while the underparts are a rich cream. In fact, the light undersides are a key field mark, as no other adult male tragopan has such a light buffy belly. However, the Halloween-colored head is what really catches the eye. There's a bright orange face mask and wattle, surrounded by a rich black crown and ears. The crest is black over orange. The female is a substantially more subdued specimen – a mottled brown similar to other female tragopans.

Average weight:
998 - 1,996 grams (2.2 - 4.4 lbs.)

15 - 20 years

Avoid allowing your Cabot's Tragopans to become obese by providing lots of space and a healthy diet. Because of the relatively small numbers of this species that have entered aviculture, there can also be a problem with inbred birds that are relatively weak. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a studbook available at the moment, but it would be wise to network through a good organization like The World Pheasant Association to keep in touch with other breeders. As always, you will also want a good veterinarian to advise you on the proper de-worming schedule, vaccinations, and other medical treatments needed to keep your tragopans in the best of health.

Behavior / temperament:
The Cabot's Tragopan is a naturally tame and friendly species highly regarded by those lucky enough to encounter it. These playful, active pheasants can learn to fly to your hand for treats or just for fun, which makes them highly rewarding companions as well as beautiful aviary birds with a fascinating courtship display.

The monogamous Cabot's Tragopan demands a huge, well-planted aviary of at least 400 square feet, with a breeding platform and night roosting perches placed high off the ground. This species has been specifically singled out as a bird that can become fat and unhappy if placed in a too-small aviary, and early keepers warned that males in such quarters experienced seizures and even sudden death as a result. Modern keepers who supply plenty of space have much happier experiences, describing how these birds love to leap, jump, fly, and play. Take the hint, and be generous with aviary space, and do provide plenty of trees, shrubs, and perhaps some large landscape rocks for them to play on. Be sure they have adequate cover to protect against direct sunlight as well as extremes of weather.

In the wild, Cabot's Tragopans would forage for a rather omnivorous diet of grass, sprouts, and other vegetable matter, as well as whatever likely insects or bugs they could catch. The backbone of the captive diet is usually a high quality waterfowl or pheasant pellet, supplemented with seeds and grains; romaine and spinach; chopped fruits like apples and grapes; milky seeding heads of grasses and other greens; and the usual commercially available live foods like mealworms, waxworms, and crickets. The diet has been somewhat debated over the years, but breeders concur that it's valuable to supply lots of greens such as romaine and chickweed. Birds in small pens have been reported to become fat and suffer sudden death, but the problem needs to be handled by supplying more room to exercise, not by restricting healthy greens. Make sure they always have a source of clean water.

Written by Elaine Radford

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