status: Vulnerable, IUCN Endangered, ESA
range: India, Nepal, Pakistan
Description and biology
The male cheer pheasant has a striking appearance. The color of the plumage (covering of feathers) on its neck and upper back is silvery-gray. The feathers on its lower back are reddish. Its tail, measuring 18 to 24 (46 to 61 centimeters) inches long, is marked with heavy, dark bars. The male has an overall length of 35 to 47 inches (89 to 119 centimeters). Females are not so dramatically colored and are smaller, measuring 24 to 30 inches (61 to 76 centimeters) in length. This pheasant is mainly vegetarian (plant-eating). It digs for roots and seeds with its stout feet and beak. It also plucks at leaves, shoots, and berries on the ground or in shrubs.
Breeding takes place in the spring. A male-female pair and one of their young male offspring defend a territory of 38 to 100 acres (15 to 40 hectares). This territory is often called the "crowing area" because of the sound the males make at dawn
and dusk as a sign of defense. After building a shallow nest on the ground among boulders or stunted shrubs, a female cheer pheasant lays a clutch (eggs produced at one time) of 8 to 10 eggs. She then incubates (sits on or broods) the eggs for 26 to 28 days. After hatching, the chicks stay with their parents until the following spring. When not breeding, cheer pheasant families many come together to form flocks of 15 or more birds.
Habitat and current distribution
The cheer pheasant's range extends southeast from the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh to the Kali- Gandaki Valley in central Nepal. A small population has recently been discovered in Pakistan. The exact number of pheasants in this range is currently unknown.
The pheasant inhabits grassy hillsides with scattered patches of oak and pine at elevations between 3,280 and 10,665 feet (1,000 and 3,250 meters). It is often found grazing close to hill villages.
History and conservation measures
Because cheer pheasants are found in groups that stay in one place, they are easily hunted. Despite having legal protection throughout their range, the birds are widely shot and trapped. Cheer pheasants have also suffered because cattle graze on their habitat and farmers often burn their grassy hillsides to create cleared land for farming.
Cheer pheasants are protected in the Margalla Hills National Park in Pakistan. However, park officials have allowed dense thorn shrubs to grow, overtaking the extensive grasslands inhabited by the cheer pheasants there. Because of this, a program to reintroduce captive-born pheasants into the park has not been successful.