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Pheasant cock
Swinhoe Pheasant cock (Photo by Graeme Dally)

Although many different species and varieties of pheasant are now widespread throughout the world, they originated in Asia and have been bred by humans for over two thousand years. The males are generally very colourful but the smaller females tend to be drab.

“Common” Pheasants were first introduced into New Zealand from Great Britain as early as 1842 but it was not until over two decades later that they became successfully established.

One of the first successes was achieved in Canterbury in 1865, and other importations soon followed. In 1868 the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society bred forty birds and sold them to landowners for £2 a pair. Although the initial breeding was carried out in aviaries the aim was to establish self-sustaining populations in the wild. They thrived especially well in the tussock-covered land of Canterbury, although on at least one property their survival was aided by the killing of wild cats, wekas and hawks. For a while it seemed as though viable wild populations were becoming established in both the North and South Islands.

But by the early twentieth century numbers had decreased markedly due, it was surmised, to the depredations of stoats, weasels, and wild cats, to bush fires, and, to a lesser degree, to the pheasants’ food-supplies being eaten by smaller introduced birds.

According to Fish & Game New Zealand, the Ring-necked pheasant that is seen in the wild today is a hybrid of three breeds – Blacknecks, Chinese Ringnecks and Mongolian pheasants. It is likely that birds of this type are still being bred and released as game for shooting.

However, fanciers in New Zealand do maintain small populations of pure breeds, including Swinhoe, Reeves and Golden.

Ringneck Pheasants
Ringneck Pheasants (Photo by Fiona Appleton)
Golden Pheasants
Golden Pheasants (Photo by Fiona Appleton)

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