Classification and Range
Pheasants belong in the order Galliformes. Other representatives of this order are turkeys, grouse, quail, guineafowl and curassows. Peacock pheasants are members of the genus Polyplectron, of which there are six species.
The Palawan peacock pheasant is endemic to the island of Palawan in the Philippines. Several habitat sites are known to exist in the central mountain range, from the limits of disturbed forest up to 2,000 feet (610 m). Due to deforestation, it is now thought that the Palawan peacock pheasant is becoming increasingly restricted to the island's mountains.
They inhabit the island's humid, coastal lowland forest, which is rapidly diminishing.
Length and Weight
Adult length: Males average 20 inches (51 cm); females average 16 inches (41 cm); Woodland Park Zoo male: 21 ounces (594 g); Woodland Park Zoo female: 18 ounces (503 g). Wild Palawan peacock pheasants may weigh less.
Life span in the wild is unknown; up to 15 years in zoos.
In the wild: Seeds, grains, nuts, fruit, leaves, roots, insects, worms and slugs.
At the zoo: They are fed a pelleted diet that meets all their nutritional needs. They are also given live insects such as meal worms or crickets, with the occasional peanut as a treat item.
Although males reach sexual maturity at about 1 year of age, they often do not breed until about 3 years of age, when they attain full adult plumage and can compete successfully for females with other adult Palawan peacock pheasants.
Females reach sexual maturity and can lay at about 2 years of age. Nesting may occur both on and above ground. The clutch is normally two off-white eggs which are incubated by the hen for 18-20 days. Males take no part in the incubation but will help feed and rear the chicks.
Some reseachers suggest that the Palawan peacock pheasant is monogamous in the wild, while others state that there is little evidence to support this claim. One author observed that males may have a 3-4 feet (0.9-1.2 m) display arena similar to argus pheasants. This suggests that the Palawan peacock pheasant is polygamous. Another researcher suggests that all six species of peacock pheasant are polygamous. He cites the presence of multiple tarsal spurs used in territorial fighting between males as a possible strategy to remain polygamous despite their small size.
Newly hatched chicks are fed beak-to-beak by their parents. Within a few days, however, the parents will begin to "call" to the chicks, encouraging them to leave the safety of their hidden nest and feed on open ground. At about 10 weeks, young attain full juvenile plumage.
No Mistaking a Male for a Female
It's easy to tell a male and female Palawan peacock pheasant apart. Males are probably the most beautifully colored of the six peacock pheasant species. The crown of their head is adorned with dark-green, metallic-looking feathers, and a long, erect, black-green crest. The face is bare and red, with white ear coverts (small feathers that cover the ears) and stripes above and below the eyes and down the neck. The remainder of the head, neck and whole of the lower body is black. The tail is adorned with blue-green ocelli (eye spots), encircled by rings of black and gray. Females are colored in mostly brown tones with a white face and throat.
Strutting His Stuff!
A male (cock) is attractively colored for a reason—to attract a female (hen). In courtship display, a male first gets a female's attention with courtship feeding. Spreading the feathers of its lower neck and mantle, and bobbing its head with a tantalizing bit of food in its beak, the male will drop the food in sight of the female. If she takes the food, the male will assume a dazzling lateral display posture that best shows off all the ocelli on the tail and tail coverts. The crest is erected and pointed diagonally forwards. He also emits a long hissing sound while walking circles around the female. If all goes as planned, his display will so impress the female enough that she will accept him for breeding.
Location at the Zoo
Palawan peacock pheasants can be viewed at the Conservation Aviary in the Temperate Forest, located in the southwest section of the zoo. Our male is frequently seen displaying to the hen in April and May.
As with many island species, the Palawan peacock pheasant is an endangered species. Due to limited range and declining habitat, it has national protected status on Palawan. The present population is estimated at less than 10,000 and is thought to be declining. Hunting for food and trapping for the bird trade also continue.
It is estimated that there are approximately 1,000 Palawan peacock pheasants in captivity worldwide. As habitat declines, captive propagation should not be viewed as the sole answer for their future survival. Priority needs to be given to protecting undisturbed lowland forests on Palawan. Presently, these magnificent birds are protected in the island's 15 square miles (39 sq km) St. Paul's Subterranean River National Park. A conservation initiative proposed by The World Conservation Union, Birdlife International, and the Species Survival Commission recommends: 1) conduct surveys to identify suitable habitat, particularly in the south part of the island. If suitable sites are found, they should be proposed for protected status; 2) control hunting and the bird trade more effectively; 3) carefully manage the captive population to minimize loss of genetic diversity; and 4) initiate a government-supported educational campaign focused on protecting habitat and endangered wildlife.
How You Can Help!
The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Recycle forest products. Eliminate or reduce pesticide use.
Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org to find ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and their habitats by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Delacour, J. 1977. The Pheasants of the World. Spur Publications, Surrey, UK. 395 p.
Johnsgard, P. A. 1986. The Pheasants of the World. Oxford University Press, New York, NY. 300 p.
McGowan, P.J.K. and P.J. Garson. 1995. Pheasants: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan 1995-1999. WPA/Birdlife/SSC Pheasant Specialist Group. IUCN Publications Services Unit, Cambridge, UK. 116 p.
Tayton, K.M. 1984. Palawan Peacock Pheasant at the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust. Dodo, J. Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, 21: 92-109.