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Bornean Crested Fireback Pheasant

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Scientific name: Lophura ignita

Other common names: Lesser Bornean Crested Fireback (L. i. ignita): Greater Bornean Crested Fireback (L. i. nobilis); Delacour's Crested Fireback (L. i. macartneyi)

The basics:
The diverse Crested Fireback is a pheasant of the lowland tropical forests of east Malaysia, some Indonesian islands, and Brunei. Unfortunately, their habitat has been devastated by logging and, where the trees still remain, they are often hunted for food, causing the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) to rate the species as “near threatened.”

There are three subspecies, as well as a closely related species, Malay Crested Fireback (Lophura rufa), considered a subspecies until 2014. An additional problem in preserving these birds is that people in bygone days carelessly hybridized all four of these different forms. If you're looking to breed a pure line of exhibition quality birds, you'll need to shop carefully.

Appearance:
The generic adult male Crested Fireback is a pleasing deep blue-black pheasant with a blue face and a bright chestnutty red rump – the so-called fireback. As the name suggests, he sports a small crest. The general impression is of a bird wearing a light blue helmet topped off with a small decorative flourish. The female is a blue-faced rich chestnut brown bird with some spotting on her underparts. It will be wise to consult with a trusted expert when identifying Crested Fireback subspecies, but here are a few tips.

The Lesser Bornean Crested Fireback, L. i. ignita, and the Greater Bornean Crested Fireback, L i. nobilis, are the lookalike birds, with the Lesser being the smaller, southern version, and the Greater being the larger, more northerly subspecies. Unfortunately, both subspecies occur in aviculture and have undoubtedly been interbred many times, making it even tougher to distinguish the two. It's imperative to get your stock from a knowledgeable breeder. The central tailfeathers are a lovely cinnamon color.

Vieillot's or Malayan or Malay Crested Fireback (L. irufa):. Fortunately, even in early days, this species was recognized as a distinct bird. The male is heavier than the Bornean Crested Fireback and features a longer tail in which the central feathers are white rather than cinnamon. The legs and feet are red. The female is also easy to recognize, because she has red feet and a chestnut tail.

Delacour's Crested Fireback (L. i. macartneyi) . Named for the famous aviculturist, Delacour's seems to represent an intermediate form between the Bornean Crested subspecies and the Malayan Crested full species. There is also more than one natural color morph. The females show substantial variation as well. Because of the possibility of confusion with hybrids, you will want to purchase these birds from someone you trust. It is rare in captivity, and most of the time, you may safely assume you're looking at a hybrid, not a Delacour's.

Average weight:
1600 - 2600 grams (3.5 - 5.7 lbs.)

Lifespan:
5 - 10 years

Health:
While Crested Firebacks are not hothouse flowers, they're true tropical pheasants, and you need to take extra care to keep them warm and to protect them from contagious diseases. If you use a Bantam or another foster mother to incubate the eggs, make sure that she has been checked by a vet first. You will definitely want a good avian veterinarian experienced with pheasants to advise you on the necessary vaccinations, preventive medications, and so on required to keep your birds in the best of health.

Behavior / temperament:
There have been reports that Crested Firebacks become depressed and even sluggish in cold weather. Keep those tropical birds warm if you expect to enjoy watching their entertaining activities and courtship displays. Like any other pheasant, the male can become belligerent during the breeding season. Some breeders have actually had to physically separate the male and female, placing the male where he can see the female but only arranging for occasional conjugal visits. The aviary really needs to be thickly planted to duplicate the natural forest environment, in order for the birds to feel secure and for the female to be able to take cover as she needs to. Don't house them with other pheasants, because they will find a way to hybridize.

Housing:
Unlike some of the other popular Lophura pheasants, the tropical Bornean Crested Fireback is sensitive to the cold. Your pair will need a heated winter shelter, and they won't breed until later in the spring or maybe not even until early summer if you live in a cool climate that experiences a cool spring. Breeders recommend that you keep this species in pairs, but you'll need to provide a large, well-planted aviary with plenty of cover for the female to escape from the male's attentions when he gets too bothersome. Allow at least 150 square feet for the aviary.

Diet:
Crested Firebacks are not particularly difficult to feed. In the wild, they 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 game bird crumble or pheasant pellet, supplemented with seeds and grains; sprouts; 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. Make sure they always have a source of clean water.

Written by Elaine Radford

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