Golden pheasants, or to give them their scientific name Chrysolophus pictus, are gorgeous birds endemic to the mountains of Central China. Both the Golden and Lady Amherst's Pheasants belong to a group called "ruffed pheasants" because of their "cape". In the golden pheasant this is black and orange. The cock golden pheasant, once mature, with his wonderful array of colours, is one of the worlds brightest birds.
We keep our Goldens in aviaries from about 150 - 250 square feet (or bigger, on occasion, if we have them sharing with other species). They eat leaves, shoots, flowers, insects and spiders in the wild. In captivity they will do well on a proprietary game feed. They also enjoy many other treats the favourite usually being peanuts.
Golden pheasants are often kept in trios (one cock bird and two hens). Even four or five hens can be kept with one cock but do keep a careful eye on them as you can end up with a hen being constantly picked on by the cock or other hens. Pheasants can be nasty to one another and some individuals will mix far easier than others. The most important thing is to be prepared. It is always a good idea to have a spare aviary if possible as it is not unusual with a few birds to have to split them up and it could save a lot of heartache in the long run. Fertility with Golden Pheasants is usually pretty good and we often have groups of three or four hens with one cock with 98 - 100% fertility. The odd infertile egg is usually just one or two at the start or end of a clutch and is only an occasional happening.
The Golden hen will lay a clutch of eggs varying from 6 up to about 12 eggs and incubation is normally 22 days. The breeding season starts at the end of March or the beginning of April and if the eggs are taken for rearing under a broody hen or for artificial incubation they will continue to lay up to about 36 eggs (sometimes even more).
Golden pheasants are hardy birds which are easy to keep and can become very tame. They are often the first ornamental pheasant for a beginner to keep. These are great little birds which do not need a huge space to thrive in and as they are so colourful and full of energy the aviary seems quite full even without any other birds. DO BEWARE as they are addictive. We started becoming interested in pheasants after seeing a pair of Golden pheasants on a day out and we are now well and truly hooked.
There is often some confusion between hens of the Golden and Lady Amherst Pheasants but as long as these are pure bred birds they are quite easy to tell apart. The problem is there are so many hybrids sold as pure species that hens can look alike so it helps to know what to look for. The Lady Amherst hen has much redder colouring than the more yellow shades of the Golden hens. The skin colour of the Golden is also yellow whereas the Lady Amherst is greyish blue. The Golden tends to have less barring than the Amherst particularly on her back. She also lacks the white abdomen that is often on the Amherst hen.
In autumn 2011 we decided to keep Yellow Golden Pheasants (aka Ghigi) at Allandoo. These are kept in exactly the same way as our Red Golden Pheasants as they are the same species. Only their colouring differs. The cock is mostly yellow although he still has the green mantle the same as the Red Golden. His wings are a mix of brown with a tiny hint of dark blue and almost white. He has a white throat & cheeks. His tail is also almost white spots with a background of pale greyish brown. The hen has the same colouring as the cocks tail all over and is heavily barred. It is very important to us that we regularly add different bloodlines when possible as it is vital to the long term health of our flock not to allow them to become inbred. Unfortunately with the rarer species this can be extremely dfficult. When we purchased our 1st Yellow Goldens they were just young poults and as such were not fully coloured. We were a bit disappointed that one of the cocks turned out to be a rather lemony shade of yellow, when he coloured up, at the end of his first breeding season. He was a healthy and pretty bird but we are keen to breed Yellow Goldens of a strong bright yellow colour so we kept one of the most promising of his sons to make sure we don't lose the bloodline all together but hopefully to improve on it. I feel that the most exciting thing about breeding birds (or any animal) is to continue to improve them with each generation. This does not necessarily mean to change anything in any drastic way. With our pheasants it is mostly improvements to the health of the birds as we wish to keep them looking like their wild cousins. There are always things to be bettered though however small they may be. Of course each time new birds are bought in there is also a chance of introducing undesirable traits so it helps to keep a careful watch on the progeny produced each year and a record kept of their parentage so if something crops up that we feel is a genetic failure we have a better chance of eliminating it again swiftly.
The Yellow Goldens are one of many mutations of the Golden Pheasant but probably the only one that has had little doubt raised about its purity. Many Golden mutations have been brought into disrepute due to having been crossed with Lady Amherst's Pheasants. It is difficult to say with certainty how many could be pure as it can be difficult to source pure birds of even the Red Goldens or for that matter the Lady Amherst's Pheasants. In the wild as well as captivity these birds will frequently produce hybrids. Some of the other Golden mutations are Dark Throated, Salmon, Peach, Cinnamon & Flame. We did have Dark Throated Goldens hatch one year ourselves from a pair of extremely good looking Golden Pheasants. The chicks were very dark brown with only a tiny amount of cream on the throat. As they became older the hens stayed a dark chocolate brown. These poults did not remind me at all of Lady Amherst's as they had very yellow beaks and legs (if anything more so than the Red Goldens) and also yellow skin. Although the pattern on the tails of these birds were linear rather than spotted they were identical to the outer tail feathers of the Red Golden. The birds also had no barring on their rump which may have shown in a hybrid. We did however decide not to keep any of the mutations, partly due to the doubt surrounding them, and sold them on at a good discount to some happy customers as well as the hen that must have been carrying the dark gene. It seemed a bit of a shame when they were lovely birds as was the hen that produced them but we are determined to keep only pure species at Allandoo and so felt we had no option but to discontinue the bloodline that produced them.
For the moment we will continue only with the Red and Yellow Golden Pheasants both of which we love having at the pheasantry and would not wish to be without. They are one of the few Pheasants that are happy to display all year round... and with such beauty why not?