The splendid fire-back pheasant, distinguished from all other members of the kalij group, to which it belongs, by its sky-blue face, high bushy crest, and large size, which even in the hen goes up to three and a half pounds and in the cock may reach five, is only found in Southern Tenasserim, being one of the many Malay forms which just penetrate our dominions in that direction. Its eastern limit is Sumatra, an allied but distinct species replacing it in Borneo.
Living where it does, this species is not likely to be confused with the Himalayan monal, also a big pheasant with a blue face, but utterly different in every other way. The cock fire-back, in addition to the splendid patch of colour which gives him his name, is remarkable for the lustrous navy-blue of his plumage, set off by white flank-splashes and the white centre-feathers of the curved but folded and hen-like tail, and the coral-red legs, armed with great white spurs. The hen is quite as distinct in her way, on account of her bright foxy-red plumage, marked with black and white below ; her legs are red like the cock's, whereas those of the Bornean fire-back are white in both sexes. Her crest is quite well developed, though not so large as the cock's.
In Tenasserim, Davidson found this bird associating in small parties, consisting of a male with his harem, though solitary males sometimes occurred ; they always kept to the cover of the evergreen forests, and scratched a good deal. Their food was the usual mixed diet of pheasants—leaves, berries, and insects. When alarmed, the covey ran off together, but could be put up by a dog, when they would fly strongly for a couple of hundred yards and then settle and begin to run again.
The cocks frequently challenged in the usual manner of the group, by whirring with their wings ; and that they are as wantonly vicious in their wild state as they are in captivity was proved by Davison having seen one repeatedly drive a cock argus from his bachelor sanctum ; the poor bird, though he would come back at the bully's whirring challenge, being naturally afraid to stand up to his formidably armed and active antagonist.
Besides the wing-buzzing, the cocks have a vocal alarm-note, which Davison compares to that of the big black-backed squirrel (Sciurus bicolor), that fine fellow as big as a cat which is so conspicuous in the forests ; the hens also have the same sharp cry. The egg is known to be buff, and very like some hen's eggs, as these birds have laid in captivity ; but no eggs seem to have been taken in the wild state, although the breeding-season appears to be known, and is said to be in the monsoon.