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  • Writer's pictureTastes Of History

A Brief History of Food: Pheasants

Updated: Feb 15

The common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is native to Asia but has been widely introduced elsewhere as a game bird. Their original range extended from Taiwan and mainland China through Korea, Siberia, Manchuria to the Caspian and Black Seas. It was most likely on the Black Sea coast and along the Rioni River in what is the western part of modern-day Georgia that the ancient Greeks first encountered these distinctive birds.

The bird’s scientific name translates from Latin as 'pheasant from Colchis' where colchicus is a further reference to the area on the Rioni River. This major Georgian river was called Phasis by the ancient Greeks and their term corresponding to the English 'pheasant' is Phasianos ornis (Φασιανὸς ὂρνις) means exactly that: 'bird of the river Phasis'.

The pheasant was certainly known to the Romans and the bird was extensively introduced in many places across the Empire eventually becoming a naturalised member of the European fauna. Today these birds are found in woodland, farmland, scrub, and wetlands. In its natural habitat the common pheasant lives in grassland near water with small copses of trees. Yet, as far as we can determine the bird was not known in the Roman province of Britannia having not been introduced that far West. Pheasants may have been naturalised in Great Britain around the 10th-century AD, perhaps earlier, but seemingly disappeared from most of the isles in the early 17th-century. It was rediscovered as a game bird in the 1830s having been ignored for many years.

Today the pheasant is a common sight in Britain's fields, woodland and, sadly for those struck by vehicles, its roads. If the risk of becoming roadkill is not enough, then the open season for pheasant shooting begins on October 1st each year.


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