The Wolferton Pheasants

Wolferton Triangle, near Sandringham in West Norfolk has long been a site that visiting birders have made a beeline for - to tick Golden Pheasant.
I however have serious doubts as to whether any 'pure' Golden Pheasants now exist at the site and may not have done for many years.
The Israeli birder Yoav Perlman has recently posted a good photo on his blog (click  here to view it) which he has labelled as a Golden x Lady Amherst's hybrid. It looks like that may be the case or it could even be a hybrid with Common Pheasant a generation or two down the line. Whatever it is it isn't a pure Golden Pheasant! Or if it is then it's a product of serious inbreeding on a scale normally only seen in Suffolk! The large amount of black around the face, throat and sides of the neck are an immediate giveaway.
Having looked back on the Surfbirds galleries all the photos of 'Golden' Pheasant from the site going right back to 2004 seem to be the same (or very similar) individual showing this black. Recent photos on the RBA galleries are of the same bird.
This all goes to show that any visiting birders need to look carefully at their target bird rather than blindly ticking Golden Pheasant.
Sadly the species has dwindled to next to nothing in Norfolk with even the best previous site at Wayland Wood now having no birds left. Like it's cousin the Lady Amherst's Pheasant I fear it's heading for extinction in the UK.

Dodgy pheasant hybrid, Wolferton (copyright Paul Rowe) 


  1. Hi Chris, although these birds are often reported as hybrids I don't believe that is actually the case. The dark-throated form 'obscurus' is well-known from captivity and is probably a result of mutation and not hybridisation. I've been interested in these for a while and despite extensive searching I've not found any evidence that these birds have any influence from any other Pheasant species other than Golden Pheasant. It may be that both species have a common ancestor which had a dark throat and both species have inherited the combination of genes that gives rise to the dark throat. Normally this isn't expressed in Golden Pheasant but through mutation it may be, and when a population is heavily inbred (such as in captivity, or in a very small feral population) such mutations are more likely to occur. For many years at least some of the Breckland birds have been beginning to show these characteristics too (although not to the same extent).

    I believe there have been no records of Lady Amherst's Pheasants in the Wolferton area so if hyrbidisation was the answer then the founders of this population would have to have been hybrids. I have tried to find someone who has photos of these birds from 20-30+ years ago but so far no success on that front.

    I am quite certain that Common Pheasant isn't involved. Generally speaking hybrids between more distantly related species are infertile, making backcrosses impossible (for example inter-generic hybrids like Greylag Goose x Canada Goose and Mallard x Muscovy Duck are believed to be infertile). I don't know for certain that Golden x Common Pheasant hybrids are infertile (they're pretty rare even in captivity) I would be surprised if that wasn't the case - in which case these birds cannot be backcrossed hybrids where Common Pheasant is involved.


  2. Hi Dave,
    Very interesting. You've clearly done far more digging around than I have!
    Looks like the inbreeding theory might be right, leading to this dark throated mutation.
    Dwindling populations are going to naturally inbreed to a greater and greater degree as the number shrink and probably eventually produce infertile offspring. The fact that these are fairly long-lived birds probably helps account for the fact they're still there.
    It does of course raise the question of them being self-supporting (and therefore genuinely 'countable' but that a whole new debate for another day!
    Luckily us old timers have seen plenty going back many years!
    I'm off to Thailand later today and have Mrs Hume's Pheasant on my hit list...


  3. Is this a photograph of an immature male Golden Pheasant? We recently moved to Foulsham, Norfolk and we've had two in our garden for the last few days.