Friday, 30 May 2014

Golden Pheasant x Lady Amhert's Pheasant

captive (but free-ranging) Golden Pheasant x Lady Amherst's Pheasant hybrid, Pensthorpe (Norfolk, UK), 28th February 2010 - copyright Dave Appleton
(photo ID: 0526)


Some hybrids between these two species are obviously intermediate, some look more like Golden Pheasants and others, like this one, look more like Lady Amherst's Pheasants.  As hybrids are fertile it may be that those that more closely resemble one or other parent species are backcrossed, second or subsequent generation hybirds, but I am currently unclear as to the extent of variation within first generation hybrids.  On this bird the red belly is an obvious and clear sign that it is not a pure Lady Amherst's Pheasant, but whether it is a first-generation hybrid or not I am not sure.


 captive (but free-ranging) Golden Pheasant x Lady Amherst's Pheasant hybrid (same bird as in photo ID 0526 above), Pensthorpe (Norfolk, UK), 28th February 2010 - copyright Dave Appleton
(photo ID: 0527)


The next bird is even more like a pure Lady Amherst's Pheasant, and must surely be a backcrossed bird (though I have no proof of that).  It differs from a pure bird in having the red on the crown extending to the forecrown - on a pure bird it would be greenish black here.  It also shows a faint buffy-red wash on the belly.  I'm told that a large proportion of captive Lady Amherst's Pheasants are in fact impure, with some Golden Pheasant genes from generations back - and the opposite may be true of Golden Pheasants.




 captive (but free-ranging) Golden Pheasant x Lady Amherst's Pheasant hybrid, presumably backcrossed with Lady Amherst's Pheasant, Pensthorpe (Norfolk, UK), 13th March 2010 - copyright Dave Appleton
(photo IDs: 0522-0525)



The next bird may possibly not be a hybrid.  Not all captive-bred Golden Pheasants resemble their wild ancestors, for example an all yellow form is popular, and this may simply be a variant of Golden Pheasant.  The crown is typically redder on hybrids, not paler as on this bird, so that may count in favour of it being a mutant rather than a hybrid, and a desaturation of colour could also explain the whiter ruff.  That could equally be down to Lady Amherst's Pheasant influence, as could the grey legs, but for now the exact identity is uncertain.




free-ranging (presumably escaped) possible Golden Pheasant x Lady Amhert's Pheasant hybrid, or perhaps mutant Golden Pheasant, Happisburgh (Norfolk, UK), 10th November 2011 - copyright Dave Appleton
(photo IDs: 0528-0529)


Some feral populations of Golden Pheasant consist of birds which have extensive blackish colouration on and around the throat.  This is often cited as evidence of past hybridisation (some generations back) with Lady Amherst's Pheasant, but I have not been able to find any clear evidence to back up this idea.  An alternative explanation is that it is caused by a mutation arising as a result of in-breeding, which explains why it occurs mostly in small and diminishing feral populations as well as in captive populations.  One very small population in west Norfolk has long held only dark-throated birds (known as var. obscurus) whereas a larger population in the Norfolk and Suffolk Brecks has historically consisted of normal-looking birds.  The west Norfolk birds are now all but extinct (no more than 2 males reported in the last 2-3 years) but the Breckland population is also rapidly declining.  The last bird I saw in the Brecks had a darker throat than normal.  If further study confirms that this population is indeed becoming dark-throated as it becomes smaller with a more restricted gene pool then that would support the understanding that these birds are mutants and not hybrids.


 feral mutant Golden Pheasant (var. obscurus), Wolferton (Norfolk, UK), 12th January 2010 - copyright Dave Appleton
(photo ID: 1566)

More photos of dark-throated mutant Golden Pheasants (as well as some normal ones) can be found here.


Golden Pheasant Chrysolophus pictus
Lady Amherst's Pheasant Chrysolophus amherstiae

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