Heart of America Game
Breeders' Association

Reeve's Pheasant

By Terry Smith

The most commonly seen long-tailed pheasant, the Reeve's Pheasant, is native to the wooded hills of east central China north of the Yangtze River. The species was known in China by the name "Chi-Chi" at the time of Marco Polo's visit there in the late 13th century. The long tail feathers of the cock were used for decoration and as a ceremonial motif. An Englishman named Beale kept them in captivity as early as 1808 on the island on Macoa and later in 1831 and 1838, an Englishman named Reeves introduced the species in England. Because the birds are fast fliers, they were a popular sporting birds on the hunting preserves in England and France.

Since Reeves', Syrmaticus reevesi, are common and most people know what they look like, time will not be spent describing their physical appearance. The species has become greatly inbred in captivity for no birds had been imported since the first half of the 1900's. Due to inbreeding, there were too many black spots found on the white crown, and the black band that outlines the crown was spreading to below the lower mandible. Furthermore, the mantle, back and rump have become chestnut in color instead of yellow with black markings as seen in the skins of Reeves' in the New York Museum of Natural History. In August of 1981, two males and a female were received at the San Diego Zoo. Birds carrying blood from the stock imported by the San Diego Zoo have truer coloring and markings as well as longer tails with more defined barring on the tails.

The central rectrices of the cock's tail can grow up to six feet in length making it a terribly showy bird. In order to maintain a tail of that length, the birds must be kept in a large pen having no weeds, shrubs or sharp edges that can damage the feathers. Wet, muddy or icy conditions are also damaging to the long feathers.

Reeves are hardy and easy to raise. The birds may be kept in either pairs or trios. The males can be very aggressive to their keepers. Two of the cocks we have had have so aggressive that we have never entered their pens to feed and water or gather eggs without taking a net or some other object to keep them at bay. Our older Reeves cock will fly at the fence even when we approach him to give him a treat such as peanuts or fresh cherries. We have never had a Reeves cock fight with its hen and injure or kill her. To prevent and aggressive cock from fighting other birds through the wire, we have placed tin along the sides of the pen.

One cannot depend on consistent egg production from Reeves for first year hens often do not lay or lay a few eggs. Reeves hens can lay seven to fifteen olive-cream colored eggs beginning in late April and will lay a second clutch if eggs are collected regularly. Incubation takes twenty-four or twenty-five days. In 1987, we let our hen set on her second clutch of eggs, and she hatched seven chicks which we then moved to a brooder. The chicks should be brooded separately from other chicks because they are aggressive and compared to other ornamentals they are more likely to feather pick and resort to cannibalism. No special precautions need to be taken to get them to start eating.

Reeves are an inexpensive addition to one's collection compared to the other members of the long-tailed pheasants - Hume's Bar-tailed, the various Coppers, Elliot's and Mikado, but a good cock bird with a long tail is sure to attract the attention of people viewing a collection of pheasants.

July 1994 The Heartland News