Lady Amherst's Pheasant.
The striking contrast of satiny-green and white in the cock Amherst pheasant's plumage would be quite sufficient for identification even without its structural peculiarities of wig of frill of long rounded feathers, and extravagant length of tail which may reach over a yard, although the bird himself is barely as big as a hen common pheasant. The frill and long centre tail-feathers are both white marked with black, and are set off by the narrow red crest, red border to the straw-yellow rump, and red tips to the long tail-coverts ; the rest of the plumage is mostly green, but white below the breast. When displaying, the cock expands his tail and frill sideways, and always attracts attention at the Zoo when thus showing off; in fact, many people must know this bird by sight, although it is not yet, after many years' breeding in captivity, anything like so well known as its only near relative, the gold pheasant (Ghrysolophus pictus).
The Amherst hen, though a plain-looking brown bird without trimmings, is strikingly marked off from our other hen pheasants by the bold cross barring of her upper plumage and neck; she has also chestnut eyebrows and a bare livid patch round the eye. Yearling cocks may be distinguished by the whitish tint of their napes and centre tail-feathers, and green gloss on the crown. Like its ally, the gold pheasant, this is a Chinese bird, but ranges to Tibet and reaches our territory also, though this has only been known in recent years. In his " Manual of the Game Birds of India," vol. ii, published in 1899, Oates mentions that he bad seen a skin of a bird of this species, a cock, which had been shot, either in the Myitkyina or in the Bhamo district, on the frontier between Burma and China, by one of the officers engaged in the settlement of the frontier in question. Then, in 1905, Mr. E. Comber recorded in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society that the Society had " lately received the skin of an adult male specimen in full plumage of Lady Amherst's pheasant from Lieutenant W. W. Von Someran, who shot it at a height of about 9,000 feet near Sadon in the Myitkyina district of Upper Burma." The donor had stated about the habits of the birds that they lived at elevations of 8,000 feet or over, and he had never seen a bird below this; and that they appeared to be common over the frontier on the hills of the Chinese side.
The habits of the bird in China are thus described by Pere David, " Lady Amherst's pheasant lives, the whole year round, in the highest jungle-covered hills of Western Szechuen, Yunnan, Kouycheou, and the highest hills of Eastern Tibet. It especially frequents the clumps of wild bamboos which grow at an altitude of 2,000 to 3,000 metres, and the shoots of these are its favourite food; indeed, it is from this that its Chinese name of Seng-ky (shoot-fowl) is derived in the wild state it shows a very jealous disposition and will not allow the golden pheasant, its only possible rival, to approach the locality in which it resides; and so one never meets these two brilliantly coloured pheasants on the same hill or in the same valley." Another clerical authority, quoted by Hume, says that Amherst pheasants, when they find springes baited with grain laid for them, are said by the Chinese to try to sweep the corn away with their huge tails so as to feed safely on it. This sounds rather a tall statement, as Hume evidently thought, but it is quite possible that the Amherst cock, one of the most irritable birds in a very peppery family, may, in his anger at being kept from coveted food by an obstruction which he fears, may play round the snare with expanded sweeping tail as he would round a hen ; for this species, like probably most birds, assumes more or less the so-called courting attitude under strong emotion such as anger. Of course any native onlooker at this performance, if it occurs, would naturally credit the bird with an intelligent motive. If some corn were actually swept away in this manner, it would indeed be probable that the bird would learn to act intelligently in the asserted direction. The birds, as above remarked, breed freely in captivity, and their eggs are buff.