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Lady Amherst’s Pheasant to become extinct in UK?

Matthew Chatfield

The Independent makes an unsourced claim that there is only a single Lady Amherst’s Pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae) left in the wild in Britain. If so, doubtless the species is functionally extinct in this country. The bird, common and widespread in south western China and Myanmar, is named after Sarah, Countess Amherst, wife of William Pitt Amherst, Governor General of Bengal, who was responsible for sending the first specimen of the bird to London in 1828. Since then these spectacular creatures have been breeding quietly in the Home Counties and Eastern England, never very numerous nor much trouble.

Lady Amherst's pheasant (c) RSPB

So, should we be worried? The Independent querulously notes:

Unless it can find a previously unsighted mate, and breeds successfully, Lady Amherst’s will become the first bird species since the great auk to be lost from the British countryside.

This is undoubtedly true, leaving aside the crucial distinction that the Great Auk was a native bird and the Lady Amherst’s is not. Lady Amherst’s is an introduced species which established a feral population. Given its relatively recent introduction and small numbers, it is unlikely that any other species depends upon it, and so its loss will probably pass unmarked by humankind or any other creatures. The reason for its decline is not known – the Indy predictably suggests foxes as one possible agent – but really most people asked to come up with a wild guess might have done no worse. The truth is we don’t know, and we won’t know. With only one bird left, it will be impossible to go back and see what happened to the others. We can note the disappearance of a rarely-seen but truly spectacular bird, but it would be inappropriate to draw any wider conclusions from it.

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

15 thoughts on “Lady Amherst’s Pheasant to become extinct in UK?

  • Jim Christie

    We Have had a visit from a male Lady Amherst’s pheasant in our garden in CENTRAL SCOTLAND this week and have had for the last 3 years always about this time but also in June. Got good photos

  • Colin Tait

    I have just seen a male Lady Amherst pheasant in Pickmere, Cheshire. It ran across the road in front of me and into a small area of trees. As I had never come across one of these before I got onto the internet immediately to check. Imagine my surprise!!

  • Hi,
    I have not seen wild Lady Amherst’s although I know there are supposedly some in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland (where I live).
    I breed these birds and just thought I would tell you that the pheasants do grow their feathers back. Once a year they will go through a complete moult and any feathers lost should grow then if not before. This usually happens after the breeding season towards the end of the summer. I have a website if anyone would like to find out more about ornamental species of pheasant please take a look.

  • james piers-oxley

    We have one of these birds which has been frequenting the grounds of our house for over the past year, it if quite placid and will come within 5 feet to feed. It appears at least 3 times a week. Although we have not seen it for a couple of weeks now. I have obtained some good video footage and photos.

  • Stuart Sutton

    I believe I have seen a Lady Amherst pheasant today (21 Dec 08) in West Yorkshire. Have photo, apparently this has been seen by many people over the past two years. No idea if there is a female.

  • Brian Taylor

    Thank you, but do you know if the tail feathers can re-grow or is the loss permanent?
    He is a lovely bird and comes up to our patio doors to peck at his reflection, but all he has now is a red stump where his ornate black/white tail feathers were!

  • The Virtual Ranger

    You might be thinking of the feathers in Lady Windermere’s Fan…

    And Brian, no, no idea. Likely a fox or cat I’d say.

  • The Virtual Ranger

    To lose one tail feather is considered misfortune….

  • Brian Tayloy

    We have this lovely bird visiting our garden and other homes arround us every day in our village of Hedge End near Southampton Hampshire. Nobody knows where it came from and know one knows where it lives at night. However today it has lost it’s tail feathers, can anyone advise how it came to lose them or if it will suffer from the loss?

  • dy7lan ward-willis

    i belive there are still some wild lady amherst’s pheasent’s as once i saw 4 lady amherst’s pheasent’s in the wild but i do think that golden pheasent’s are much more common as i have seen these a few more time’s the new forest is a good place for golden and lady amherst’s pheasent’s and the occasional reeves’s and silver pheasent’s

    from dylan

  • paul hunter

    We have a male Lady Amherst’s Pheasant that feeds in our garden evey morrning.
    Its usualy with outher British pheasants but we have never seen a female Lady Amherst’s.
    Could you tell me if its possible to buy a female so as to release it and hopefuly the will breed.
    We have lots of photos of the male.


    Paul & Kathryn

  • Howard Prince

    There used to be a population in North Wales at at Halkyn Hall (Pentre Halkyn ?)and church yard. I recall seeing at least three males there but I am going back ten years or more. Not sure whether any of the birds or their decendants are still present.

  • Derek Parkhouse

    For the last 18-24 months the area where I live has had a resident, Wild,
    Amherst Pheasant, who is, at the moment, in the morning dawn chorus, calling, possibly for a mate.

    The Ranger responds: got any pics?

  • If the Lady Amherst goes extinct in the UK then really its not a great loss they were never native and are commonly kept in collections if it is such a big deal that they still remain in a feral state then just breed and release somemore. As for Gamekeepers intolerance what on earth are you talking about? Whats good for Lady Amhersts Pheasants is good for other pheasants dont know if you’ve heard this but game keepers actually control foxes something listed as one of the reasons for there decline as well as numerous other predators that would love to munch on the little blighters.

  • Rupert Bear

    There are 3 male birds left that we know of; last year there were 5. No female has been seen since 2003.
    Habitat destruction is the most likely cause, followed by gamekeepers intolerance, and then birdwatchers of the twitching / annual listing type and lastly foxes.


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