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Golden Pheasant

(Chrysolophus pictus)

Chrysolophus pictus

Chrysolophus pictus
Photo courtesy of John Corder, WPA Pheasant CD

The Golden Pheasant is one of the most popular of all pheasant species kept in captivity. It is very beautiful, hardy, easy to keep and great for beginners. The Golden has been kept in captivity since as early as 1740 and perhaps was the first type of pheasant brought to North America. There is evidence that George Washington may have kept them at Mt. Vernon! For being so well known and familiar in captivity, very little is known of their habits in the wild, in the mountains of central China.

This species, along with the Lady Amherst Pheasant (C. amherstiae), make up the group of pheasants called the Ruffed Pheasants, genus Chrysolophus. They are named for their cape or ruff which they spread around their face and neck during courtship. Since these two species are so closely related, many breeders have crossed them, making "pure" Goldens and Amhersts hard to find in captivity.

The wild form of the Golden is often called the Red Golden in captivity, and the males are one of the most brilliantly colored of all birds. The adult males should have a full, silky golden-yellow crest with perhaps a slight tinge of red at the tip. The face, throat, chin and the sides of the neck are rusty tan; the wattles and orbital skin are yellow. The ruff or cape is a pale fulvous to a light orange, with each feather with a bluish-black border. The upper back is green and the rest of the back and rump is a golden-yellow. The breast is scarlet; the flanks and underparts are scarlet changing into a light chestnut. The tertiaries of the wing are blue and the scapulars are dark red. The central tail feathers are black, spotted with cinnamon and the tip of the tail cinnamon buff. The upper tail coverts are the same color as the central tail feathers. Immature males resemble hens, but will have a spotted tail and varied patches of red throughout the plumage.

The hen, as in most pheasants, has a much duller coloration than the male. At first site, she is an overall rufous brown with dark barring and a buff face and throat. The breast and sides are a barred buff and blackish brown. Her abdomen is a plain buff which varies from hen to hen. Both sexes have yellow legs and bill.

When purchasing adult goldens, please observe the adult male for signs of Amherst blood. The male will have the following if crossed: 1.) Any trace of red in the crest besides that at the very tip, 2.) Any traces of green in the breast, 3.) Red in the lower back or rump, 4.) Large size, 5.) Legs dark. A Golden hen should be small, also with yellow legs and no tinge of red in the crown. Immature goldens are much lighter in the overall color when compared to an Amherst, and of course, the legs will be yellow.
Chrysolophus pictus

Chrysolophus pictus
Photo courtesy of John Corder, WPA Pheasant CD

Avicultural Data

One of the easiest pheasants to keep in aviaries, this species is without a doubt, the best for the beginner. They are small and do not require a very large aviary, making suitable for those with limited space. Extremely compatible with other types of birds, I have raised many Goldens along side waterfowl, doves, pigeons and even peafowl. I don't, however, recommend you keep them in the same aviary with other species of pheasants.

I find them very winter hardy and able to withstand bitterly cold temperatures with little or no shelter. Since they are forest birds by nature, you will need to provide plenty of shade for them during the hot summer months. Direct sunlight will cause the male's plumage to fade.

The Golden was the first species of pheasant I had growing up and still enjoy them today. You will notice that the males are "show-offs", often displaying their ruff with no hens around! I have had some that have become quite tame, taking lettuce and other treats right from my hand.

This species readily breeds in captivity. The hen will begin to lay her clutch of 8 to 12 eggs in April. I have seen some Golden hens that were great mothers, and others that would care less for their eggs, it is encouraged to provide as much natural surroundings as possible to encourage the hens to incubate. Incubation lasts about 22 to 23 days. The chicks are very easy to raise, and are often used to "teach" rarer species to eat. Golden chicks are easy to sex when very young. The color of the female's iris is a dark brown, while the male's is much lighter.

Although the males do not aquire their beautiful colors until their second year, first year cocks are often fertile. Up to four hens can be bred to a mature cock with good fertility.

Mutations: Being an avicultural subject for so long, there is no doubt that several mutations have been developed over the years. I have serious doubt of several of the new mutations (believe many were used by crossing with Amherst) and have only included a few brief descriptions of the mutations that have been established for several years. One mutation, the Yellow Golden, is almost as common as the wild Golden in aviculture and I have provided a link with more information.

The Dark-throated Golden was the first mutation developed from the golden pheasant, however, there is recent information that disputes validity of this being a pure mutation. This dark bird was first seen in the 1860s. The adult male resembles a normal golden, but is darker with a smoky-black face and throat. The tail is also barred and not spotted as in the normal form. The hen is easily distinguishable from a normal hen. She is much darker all around with dark barring. The chicks differ from normal goldens in being dark brown with white spots. There are many indications that these birds could in fact be derived from Amherst crossings.

The Yellow Golden, also known as the Ghigi golden, was developed around the middle of this century by the Late Professor A. Ghigi of Bologna, Italy. see provided link for more information

Another mutation, the Cinnamon Golden was developed by William Petzold of Conecticut in the early seventies. The adult male is similar to the normal form, and at first glance, many believe that it is, but they have lost the metallic green on it's back and the blue on it's wings. Both have been replaced with a glossy gray. The ruff, crest and rump appear a darker yellow - almost orange. The cinnamon generally appears more glossy in appearance than the normal golden. The hens are readily distinguishable from other mutations by being an overall reddish cinnamon color with dark barring. Over the past several years, this mutation has gained in popularity and is now quite common in aviaries. As in the other brightly colored mutations, the male cinnamon golden's plumage will fade in direct sunlight.

I would like to stress that the mentioned birds, with the possibility regarding the dark-throat, are mutations of the true golden pheasant and NOT hybrids with the Amherst. Since these birds are so closely related, they will cross with the offspring being fertile. There are endless color combinations in these hybrids, but are useless to aviculturists who want to keep pure species, the way nature intended them. Therefore, I would not recommend crossing these two, or any species, of pheasants just to see "what comes out". In the past year, I was e-mailed photos of hybrids that one person was claiming were "White-ruffed Golden Pheasants". Just be careful when dealing with someone who claims to have new mutations. Request photos and as much informaiton regarding their development as possible.


Click on thumbnails for larger views.
Golden Pheasant, normal/wild/red

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Photo Credits
(l to r): 1-2, Matt Tuttle; 3, Roman Kmicikewycz; 4, Jan Harteman; 5-7, Bud & RoxAnn Riggs.

Golden Pheasant, mutation - yellow

1 2

Photo Credits
(l to r): 1-2, Saul Villagrana.

Bibliography and Further Reading

  • Brown, D. 1998. A Guide to Pheasants & Waterfowl, Their Management, Care & Breeding. ABK Publications, South Tweed Heads, Australia.
  • Delacour, J. 1977. The Pheasants of the World. 2nd ed., World Pheasant Association and Spur Publications, Hindhead, U.K.
  • Delacour, J. 1978. Pheasants: Their Care and Breeding. T.F.H. Publishing, Neptune, NJ.
  • Hayes, LB. 1995. Upland Game Birds: Their Breeding and Care. Leland Hayes, Valley Center, CA.
  • Howman, K. 1991. Pheasants of the World: Their Breeding and Management. Hancock House Publishers, Surrey, B.C. Canada.
  • Johnsgard, P.A. 1999. The Pheasants of the World: Biology and Natural History. 2nd ed., Smithsonian Press, Washington D.C.
  • Madge, S., McGowan, P. 2002. Pheasants, Partridges, and Grouse. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
  • Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterström, D., Grant, P.J. 1999. Birds of Europe. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.


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