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Malayan Crested Fireback

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Scientific name: Lophura rufa

Other common names: Malay Crested Fireback, Vieillot's Crested Fireback, Malaysian Fireback

The basics:
The Malayan Crested Fireback is the probably the most abundant fireback pheasant in aviculture. A tropical species somewhat sensitive to cold and damp, this fireback may not breed for three years. Therefore, it is usually recommended to people with plenty of time, space, and patience who already have some experience with easier pheasants. Once considered a subspecies of the Crested Fireback, this bird was given full species status and the name Malayan Crested Fireback in 2014. You will also find information on this bird under the common name of Vieillot's Crested Fireback.

While this pheasant is fairly widespread in aviculture, it's experiencing a troubling decline in the wild, thanks to its home in lowland tropical forests in the Thai-Malay peninsula and some Indonesian islands. Where the trees haven't already been logged, the birds may still actually be hunted for food.

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.

Malayan Crested Fireback (L. rufa):. 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.

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.

Delacour's Crested Fireback (L. i. macartneyi) seems to represent an intermediate form between the Lesser/Greater 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. You must go the extra mile to protect the hatchlings from the cold and damp.

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 Malayan 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. This bird will not breed for two years-- and some breeders say not to expect success until the third year.

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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