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Tragopans

Is this genus of pheasants the most spectacular of all? BILL NAYLOR introduces these five magnificent species and offers expert advice on how to keep and breed them

Blyth’s tragopan: native to  the eastern Himalayan region

Although there are many beautiful pheasants, the tragopans are generally accepted as being the birds of paradise of the pheasant family. They are much sought after by private pheasant keepers, zoos, and – unfortunately – poachers.

All five species have been kept in captivity, but the western (Tragopan melanocephalus), Cabot’s (T. caboti) and Blyth’s tragopan (T. blythii) are now rare in aviculture, with declining wild populations. Temminck’s (T. temmincki) and the satyr tragopan (T. satyra) are the two species most frequently seen in captivity and are the only tragopans not listed on CITES. Overall, Temminck’s is the species seen most often in aviculture.

The care of all tragopans is similar and they require large aviaries. Unlike other pheasants, they are strong flyers and can nest in trees about 12m (40ft) high. When kept in small pens without foliage, they are prone to obesity and are usually short-lived. If provided with foliage and spacious aviaries, they can live for up to 20 years. Clipped tragopans have been successfully kept in high fenced open pens, but be aware – even clipped birds can climb large shrubs and trees.

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Reeves’s pheasant

This superb gamebird will light up any aviary, says BILL NAYLOR – just leave room for its tail!

Knight of the bird world:  a cock Reeves’s pheasant shows off his ‘chain mail’

Big, bold and beautiful would be an appropriate description of the Reeves’s pheasant (Syrmaticus reevesii). More golden in colour than the golden pheasant, the feathers of the body are edged in black, giving the impression it is armour-plated. The male’s impressive tail can be four times the length of the body. Tails of 2m (6ft 6in) have been recorded, longer than a peacock’s train, but the average length is a “mere” 1.6m (5ft 3in). As with most pheasants, the tail and other plumage improve with age.

It is a hardy bird, and as such it has been introduced into a number of countries, with free-breeding colonies in Britain and America. The Reeves’s pheasant is extremely tough and in its native China it prefers pine forests in mountainous areas, and is at home at 915m (3,000ft) and higher.

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More than just pheasants

The World Pheasant Association isn’t only about gamebirds with long tails – it aims to study and conserve all the world’s Galliformes, explains TIM LOVEL. Words by Nick West

Cheer pheasant (Catreus wallichi): subject of a WPA programme in the Himalayas

WITH more than 25 per cent of the world’s gamebird species threatened, you’d think Professor Tim Lovel, chairman of the World Pheasant Association (WPA), would be worried. But he says: “We feel relatively confident that we won’t lose many species, if any, because we can raise funds and target those species in danger, when needed. I’m proud of our increasing professionalism.

“We employ four people now and during my chairmanship we’ve joined forces with the University of Newcastle. We’re regarded as a very serious-minded group of people, who’ve come a long way from the ‘get ’em in cages and breed ’em up quick’ style of conservation.”

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