pheasant defined in 1930 yearpheasant - Pheasant;
pheasant - Head and neck glossed with metallic reflections of green, blue, and yellow; sides of head bare, scarlet, minutely spotted with black; plumage spotted and banded with red, purple, brown, yellow, green, and black. Length, three feet. Female: light brown marked with dusky; sides of head feathered.
The pheasant has had a remarkable and a very long history, extending back into the period of myth and fable to the famous expedition of the Argonauts, who brought back this bird, with some other curious and beautiful objects, including the golden fleece, from the banks of the river Phasis, in Colchis. That, at all events, is the tradition which science has preserved in both names of the species. It is not incredible that the pheasant was introduced into Europe twelve and a half centuries before Christ; for we know that our familiar homing pigeon was employed as a letter- carrier by the Egyptians at an even earlier date. When and by whom it was first introduced into England is not known. There is evidence that the bird existed and was held in great esteem in this country before the Norman Conquest; and the belief is that it was brought hither by the Romans, who were accustomed to introduce ' strange animals ' into the countries they conquered, and who gave the fallow-deer to Britain. That the first pheasants brought to Europe were obtained on the banks of the Phasis - now the Riou - is highly probable, since the marshy woods in the neighbourhood of that stream are still the headquarters of the aboriginal wild bird. Its habits appear curiously persistent: it must have wood, dense cover, and water in abundance to thrive. In Britain, where it has been permitted to run free in the woods for the last sixteen or seventeen centuries, it is still scarcely able to maintain its existence without the strictest protection and a great deal of attention on the part of man. It is known that when the birds are left to shift for themselves they soon decrease in numbers, and eventually die out, except in a few rare cases where the conditions are extremely favourable. How heavy the cost is of keeping pheasants in numbers sufficient for the purposes of sport is well known to all those who have preserves.
An interesting fact about the pheasant is, that the various species forming the group to which our bird belongs freely interbreed when they come together, and produce hybrids which are fertile. A Chinese species, the ring-necked pheasant, which is a little smaller than the British bird, was introduced into this country at the end of the last century, and everywhere the two species have interbred so freely that it is now scarcely possible to find a bird which does not show traces of hybridism.
An account of the habits of the pheasant would be superfluous here, as this bird, in the nearly semi-domestic state in which it exists throughout the country, is as familiar to most persons as the fowl.
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