Silver Pheasant

(Lophura nycthemera)

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hainan silver pheasant pair

Lophura nycthemera whiteheadi
Photo courtesy of the World Pheasant Association

Additional Information

Breeding Season: Silver are among the first birds to begin laying. Don't be surprised to find an egg when there is still snow on the ground! In Missouri, my birds would begin to lay in late February and early March, slowing down in May.

Breeding Age: Second year, but first years birds are often fertile.

Clutch Size: 6 to 15

Incubation Period: 26-27 days.

Description - Male: The male True Silver L. n. nycthemera has a long black crest, a black chin and throat, with a glossy bluish-black belly. The rest of the body is white, with many black lines. Their tails can be quite long, with the central feathers pure white. One of the most noticeable features are the bright red face wattles which are used during courtship. Silvers do not acheive their brillant plumage until their second year. First year males often have many black markings on the chest, while the rest of the body is mostly brown with light gray streaks.

Description - Female: Hens are drab, olive brown overall. There is much variation from hen to hen in the streaking of the belly, and I have never seen two hens exactly alike. Hens have a much smaller and paler face wattle. The bill is gray and the feet red. Immature Silvers resemble hens, but are often lighter or paler.

Lewis' L. n. lewisi males are somewhat similar to L. l. crawfurdi, but tail and crest some what longer, the markings on the upperparts are bolder; hens have a long crests, greyish brown overall, very fine vermiculations in contrast to the two mentioned.

Variation among the subspecies is great and I would love to have complete descriptions of each. In the meantime, one should consult Pheasants of the World by Jean Delacour for the complete descriptions.

Status in Captivity: Common and well established, but it is believed that many of the races have been interbred and therefore pure forms of the subspecies remain rare in captivity. Of the mentioned subspecies, I can only find vague information on those kept in American aviculture. It is believed that most of the different subspecies which made it to America have interbred with the True Silver and basically I refer to most Silvers here as "American Silvers". There are a few out there who care enough to maintain pure lines, but in general, most just want what is the cheapest. Lewis' and Jones' are kept by a handful or so American breeders, but their long term outlook is not good.

There are also American breeders who are trying to create subspecies by selective breeding of jumbled lines we have here. This was done recently with a breeder claiming to have engelbachi, these were nothing more than "American" Silver bred together that had markings close to the original race. I also saw a breeder who claimed to have Ruby Mines rufripes, I begged for more information, but never got a reply and seriously doubt their existence. It is a shame, but many pheasant breeders will claim or say anything to make an extra buck. We have really lost sight of conservation in American pheasant aviculture and most just care for pheasant business. Those of us who want to preserve pure species and subspecies are left scratching our heads as we try to sort through decades of mass-produced, inbred, hybrid birds. I feel that imports of wild caught birds are needed and a strict studbook should be kept for Silver & Kalij Pheasant subspecies.

Misc Notes: Bold, curious, beautiful and majestic, the Silver Pheasant is a perfect aviary bird and great for beginners to pheasant keeping. Male Silvers have a reputation of being aggressive towards their keepers and hens. I've had many males that I had to ward off with a stick and on the other hand, our current Silver male is perfectly harmless. They are big birds that are extremely tough and hardy. We once had an ice storm and had to go pull the Silvers off the roost to place them inside the shelter, only to see them back outside again on the roost within an hour! Many keepers also allow Silvers free range on their property.

It is recommended to allow the hens to go broody, as they are great mothers and is very interesting to observe the family behavior of this species. The male, despite his reputation of being mean, does participate with the rearing of the chicks. The chicks do grow quickly and are able to fly at only a few days.

I've seen Silvers breed in nearly all sizes of aviaries. An ideal aviary is one that is at least 120 square feet, landscaped with various shrubs, grasses, logs and rocks. They are extremely hardy and tough birds, only a minimal shelter is required during the winter months. Ample shade is recommended during the summer. I've ran into problems when trying share the aviary with other bird species, if this is a must, place feed & water stations in areas where the Silvers do not have access.

PDF Articles

Additonal articles in PDF form uploaded to GBWF; content on files not owned by GBWF, but important and informative data that I want to share with our users.

Interesting Facts: They are well known in ancient Chinese art and poetry. I have read that these birds were also referred to as the White Phoenix.

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Bibliography and Further Reading

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Robson, C. 2002. Birds of Thailand. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
  • Stattersfield, A.J., Crosby, M.J., Long, A.J., Wege, D.C. 1998. Endemic Bird Areas of the World, Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation. BirdLife International, Cambridge,

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