Common pheasant

Phasianus colchicus Linnaeus, 1758

Order: Galliformes

Family: Phasianidae

New Zealand status: Introduced

Conservation status: Introduced and Naturalised

Other names: ring-necked pheasant, English pheasant, peihana, Chinese pheasant

Geographical variation: New Zealand stock is a mix of subspecies; the most prominent being the ring-necked pheasant (P. c. torquatus) from China

Common pheasant. Adult male. Queen Elizabeth Park, September 2016. Image © Paul Le Roy by Paul Le Roy

Common pheasant. Adult male. Queen Elizabeth Park, September 2016. Image © Paul Le Roy by Paul Le Roy

Acclimatisation Societies released about 30 species of upland game birds throughout New Zealand, to provide sport for European colonists. Common pheasants were among the first to be released, in Wellington, Canterbury, Otago and Auckland from 1842-1877. They are established throughout open country in the North Island, with local populations topped up by ongoing releases by Fish & Game Councils and private breeders. Numbers are lower in the South Island. Hunting of pheasants and other game birds in New Zealand is managed by Fish & Game New Zealand.


The common pheasant is the largest introduced upland gamebird species established in New Zealand, weighing up to 1.5 kilograms. The male is larger than the female and much more brightly coloured. The most prominent features of the male are its red facial wattle, iridescent blue-green head and neck feathers, distinctive white collar, and long, barred tail feather. The body feathers are red and brown with intricate white margins and black barring. The female is much smaller with a short tail and subtly marked brown feathers with much finer black barring.

Voice: the male has a distinctive loud crow ‘kok-kok’. When flushed, the male utters a loud throaty korrrk alarm call.

Similar species: adult female and immature common pheasants may resemble helmeted guineafowl but lack the bony casque on the head and white-spotted grey plumage. They may also resemble weka and adult female and immature wild turkeys but are distinguished by having long tapering tail feathers and paler brown plumage.


Pheasants are most abundant in the northern and western regions of the North Island. In the South Island, it is mainly found in the drier areas of Canterbury and Nelson.


In New Zealand, common pheasants inhabit a wide variety of open habitats, including grasslands, arable and pastural farmland, exotic forestry, deciduous woodland, coastal shrubland and road verges. They have a strong association with areas where ink weed is common.


The New Zealand pheasant population is estimated at 250,000 birds, with about 50,000 males shot each year during the winter game-hunting season. Its numbers are augmented through releases of captive-reared birds. Pheasant numbers increased rapidly after their release, but plummeted in the 1890s following the release of ferrets and stoats and widespread laying of poisoned grain, both being measures implemented to control populations of introduced rabbits. Pheasant populations have never fully recovered.

Economic impacts

Pheasants are not recognised as having any significant economic or conservation impacts beyond being a gamebird, with flow-on benefits to suppliers of hunting equipment and licenses.  


Common pheasants are solitary outside the breeding season. Males are polygamous, mating with a number of females and taking no part in nest building or incubation. The main breeding season is from October to December, but eggs have been found from July to March. The nest is a bowl-shaped indentation in grass, well hidden among vegetation. The average clutch size is 9 with a range of 7-15. Incubation takes 23-28 days; the chicks leave the nest when dry and are able to fly short distances after 12 days.

Behaviour and ecology

Pheasants stay close to vegetation, seeking cover when disturbed. They are wary and have good eye-sight, and so provide few opportunities to observe behaviour other than threat response. When disturbed at close range, they erupt into vertical flight and fly low and swiftly until pitching back into cover.

Food and feeding

Common pheasants are omnivorous, feeding on foliage, seeds, grains, berries and invertebrates. Chicks mainly consume insects. Adults can dig in the ground with their beak and claws up to a depth of 8 cm.




Falla, R.A.; Sibson, R.B.; Turbott, E.G. 1966. A field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Collins, London.

Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 1996. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Viking, Auckland.

Lindsey, T.; Morris, R. 2000. Collins field guide to New Zealand wildlife. Harper Collins, Auckland,.

Thomson, G.M. 1922. The naturalisation of animals and plants in New Zealand. Cambridge University Press.

Westerkov, K.E. 1967. Know your New Zealand birds. Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, Christchurch.

Wilson, K. 2004. Flight of the huia: ecology and conservation of New Zealand’s frogs, reptiles, birds and mammals. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.

Recommended citation

Seabrook-Davison, M.N.H. 2013 [updated 2017]. Common pheasant. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online.

Common pheasant

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
ground-level hollow
Nest description
Bowl shaped indentation in the grass.
Nest height (mean)
0 m
Maximum number of successful broods
Clutch size (mean)
Clutch size (min)
Clutch size (max)
Mean egg dimensions (length)
46 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
36 mm
Egg colour
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
Unknown days
Incubation behaviour
female only
Incubation length (mean)
25 days
Incubation length (min)
23 days
Incubation length (max)
28 days
Nestling type
Nestling period (mean)
Leaves nest within hours of hatching
Age at fledging (mean)
Juveniles can fly short distances by 12 days
Age at fledging (min)
12 days
Age at first breeding (typical)
Maximum longevity
15 years (New Zealand hybrid)
Maximum dispersal