Lady Amherst's Pheasant

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Scientific name: Chrysolophus amherstiae

Other common names: Lady Amherst Pheasant

The basics:
The splendid Lady Amherst's Pheasant, which shares the Ruffed Pheasant (Chrysolophus) genus with the equally splendid Golden Pheasant, has been one of the most popular pheasant species in aviculture since the 19th century. A bird of the mountain forests, with observers claiming to have observed them as high as 15,000 feet, they're hardy, adaptable, and cold-resistant. They also show well in captivity, with the attractive male eager to display by spreading his cape (the so-called “ruff”) for his females and his human admirers alike. All in all, they have been highly recommended for the beginner as well as the expert pheasant fancier for over a century.

However, if you plan to become a serious breeder of a pure line of exhibition grade birds, you need to be aware of the problem of hybrid crosses with the Golden Pheasant. The story goes back to the early to mid 19th century, when the importers brought in too many males (probably because of their beauty and visibility) in proportion to the females. As with Golden Pheasant, each male demands several females – but there may have actually been more males than females imported. The Golden Pheasant was already well-established in aviculture, and it proved all-too-easy to supply the Lady Amherst's males with Golden Pheasant hens. There has been a large number of mixed blood Lady Amherst's Pheasants in both America and Europe ever since. If you plan to breed your birds, take the time to seek out pure stock from a reputable expert.

You won't confuse an adult male Lady Amherst's Pheasant with any other bird. The green metallic crown is paired with a red crest, and the extravagant long white tail is banded in black and blue-black. In case that isn't enough to catch the eye, there is also a display cape or ruff, which is all the more noticeable because each white feather in the cape is tipped in dark blue or black. It's also worth noting the white belly. The females are a tougher job, and a beginner should definitely deal with a trusted breeder or supplier, but as a general rule they can be distinguished from female Golden Pheasants because they have a more chestnut tinge to their head and breast. In both sexes, the beak, lower legs, and feet are gray – an important field mark, since they are yellow in their close relative, the Golden Pheasant.

Since the Golden and Lady Amherst's Pheasants are frequently hybridized, it may be that you encounter hybrids in the market. As long as it's fully disclosed, and you are aware of what you are buying, fine. The hybrid can have a good personality and make an attractive display in the aviary. However, if you are looking to breed your birds in the future, you should inspect your Lady Amherst's Pheasants to avoid any Goldens in the background. Pure Lady Amherst's males should not have gold feathers in the crown or red feathers on the breast. Gray or blue or blue-gray feet and legs are normal. Golden or yellow feet are a clear mark of Golden ancestry.

Average weight:
1.4 - 1.8 kilograms (3 - 4 lbs.)

7 - 12 years

Lady Amherst's 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 Lady Amherst's Pheasant is a perennial favorite because of its pleasing personality as well as its plumage, and it would be tough to choose between this species and the Golden Pheasant, but choose you must if you have only one aviary, because they can't be kept together. Like the Golden, the Lady Amherst male loves to display and puts on a fine performance, which he is willing to share with his humans as well as his female admirers. Despite his tendency to display, he doesn't seem to become aggressive toward non-competing species, and keepers have been able to maintain their Lady Amherst flocks in mixed-species exhibits that include smaller birds such as exotic doves and even finches.

Lady Amherst's Pheasants may do well in a pen or aviary of about 150 square feet, but bigger is always better to show the splendid tail to full advantage and to allow you the privilege of watching the interesting mating dance. They can also do well in mixed species aviaries with other non-competing birds, but don't place them with other pheasants, particularly the Golden Pheasant, because they just don't know any better than to hybridize. The proud males love to court more than one female, and if you keep only a pair or a trio, he may harass the hens a bit too much. Many breeders advise keeping at least three females per male. They are much tougher and more cold hardy than many other species, but they still need reasonable protection from predators and the elements. A good design will include an area of shade and a variety of shrubs and bushes, as well as a more open area for displaying and dust-bathing.

Like many other birds with a long history in aviculture that dates back to before the days of modern diets, the Lady Amherst's Pheasant is pretty easy 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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