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Kalij Pheasant

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Scientific name: Lophura leucomelanos

Other common names: Nepal Kalij (L. l. leucomelanos); White-crested Kalij (L. l. hamiltoni); Lineated Kalij (L. l. lineata); Black-breasted Kalij / Horsfield's Kalij (L. l. lathami)

The basics:
The Kalij Pheasant isn't as well-known to the average pheasant fancier as its upscale relative, Silver Pheasant, but it's an extremely successful and widespread bird in the wild, ranging across a broad expanse of Asia, including the Indian subcontinent, China, and southeast Asia. From the tropical forests of Thailand to the foothills of the Himalayas, one of the nine subspecies of Kalij Pheasant is there. They have even managed to get themselves introduced into Hawaii and promptly declared an invasive species, thanks to their hardy nature and omnivorous diet.

Appearance / health:
At the time of writing, there are 15 accepted subspecies of Silver Pheasant, 9 subspecies of Kalij Pheasant, and uncounted numbers of unintended and purposeful hybrids between the two species and also within the subspecies. As a rough rule of thumb, Silver Pheasants have bare red faces and red legs, while Kalij Pheasants have bare red faces and gray legs. You will need to consult an excellent reference, a top expert, or probably both, if you want to know the details of every plumage for every possible combination. Here, we'll just offer some quick tips to identify birds you might commonly encounter in aviculture. If you wish to become a serious breeder of a pure line, you must network with trusted suppliers to get started with properly identified and mated birds. In all cases, the female is a considerably browner, less showy specimen.

The White-crested Kalij Pheasant, L. l. hamiltoni: Probably the most commonly encountered subspecies in aviculture, the male is quickly identifiable because of his showy, light-colored crest which contrasts nicely with his dark nape and crown.

The nominate subspecies, L. l. leucomelanos : Also called the Nepal Kalij Pheasant. Overall much like the White-crested subspecies except, as you might guess, the crest is darkish, shorter, and simply not as showy.

Lineated Kalij Pheasant, L. l. lineata: Formerly classed by some people as a subspecies of the Silver Pheasant, here's one where you had better check the legs before you make a bad call. It may otherwise remind you of some subspecies of Silver, but the legs are gray, not red – the key field mark.

Black-breasted or Horsfield's Kalij Pheasant, L. l. lathami: Much darker than the other two subspecies you are likely to find in aviculture in the United States. Much of the attractive barring or stippling found in other subspecies of Kalij and Silver Pheasants will not be visible as a result of the overall dark plumage.

Average weight:
0.45 - 1.1 kilograms (1 - 2.5 lbs).

Lifespan:
5 - 10 years

Health:
The Kalij Pheasant has a reputation for being a hardy, adaptable bird – probably one reason, in conjunction with its beauty, that it became so popular. Nonetheless, you will 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:
The active, energetic Kalij Pheasant requires a large, well-planted, well-designed pen or aviary with lots of so-called enrichment items to challenge its mind and to keep it from getting involved in pointless conflicts with its mate. A mixed-species exhibit should only be tried if you have plenty of room and cover for the other species, and you can invest the time to observe and be sure that your Kalij Pheasants aren't harassing their companions. They cannot be housed with Silver Pheasant, since they don't know better than to hybridize with their cousins. Kalij Pheasants can become unhappy or nervous if their aviary lacks sufficient cover or territory, so don't acquire these birds unless you can provide the space and vegetation they demand.

Housing:
To show at their best, the Kalij Pheasant requires a huge, well-planted aviary that provides cover, plenty of perches at different levels, a dust bathing and sunning spot, and a warm shelter to protect against wind, damp, and cold. They also need protection against predators. In days gone by, it wasn't uncommon to see Kalij Pheasants taught to free-range, but you should consult with a local pheasant keeper to see if this practice is a wise one for your area. In the state of Hawaii, the bird has been declared an exotic invasive, so it would be unwise to allow a favorite pet to escape into the wild, where it might be viewed as a nuisance. In some other states, Kalij Pheasants may be legally hunted or vulnerable to predators not found in their native lands. For most people, the large pen or aviary will be the best choice.

There has been some debate about the wild behavior of the Kalij Pheasant, and it isn't impossible that some subspecies are more monogamous than others. In the captive situation, some breeders have noted that the common pheasant fancier's practice of housing one male to two or more females has not worked for them with these birds. They advise placing this species in pairs, to avoid possible fights between females. A large pen or aviary, of a minimum size of 120 square feet or even larger, is generally needed for each pair.

Diet:
Kalij Pheasants 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, 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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