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Manu Minute: The Flashy Kalij Pheasant

A. Tanimoto-Johnson, Kalij pheasant AMT_ED2A6015.jpg
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson
/
HPR
Male Kalij pheasants have glossy blue-black plumage with some white coloration on their chests and backs and long black tail feathers. They have bright red masks on their face and either black or white crest on their heads. Females have similar features, but are brown instead of black, with a smaller, brown crest on their heads.

Native to the mountains of India and Pakistan, Kalij pheasants were introduced to the Puʻu Waʻawaʻa area on the island of Hawaiʻi in 1962. (Sound familiar?)

Since then, these game birds have colonized the high elevation forests on the Big Island, Maui, and Oʻahu. Unfortunately, they tend to bring invasive species with them. Kalij feed on the fruits of Banana poka, strawberry guava, and clidemia, and as a result, they spread the seeds of these destructive plants throughout our native forests.

But Kalij pheasants aren't just changing the landscape in Hawaiʻi — they're changing their breeding behavior as well.

A. Tanimoto-Johnson, Kalij pheasant female.jpg
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson
/
HPR
One female Kalij Pheasant may be in a breeding group with up to six males at a time.

These pheasants are predominately monogamous in Asia. But in Hawaiʻi, researchers have observed the emergence of a new social system: dubbed "cooperative breeding," one female may form long-term bonds with up to six males. Though they may compete for dominance within their group, all the males all pitch in around the nest.

Kalij likely adopted this forward-thinking attitude towards polyandry as a result of overcrowding. Since there are so many of these pheasants in our forests, there's insufficient territory for them to maintain monogamous behaviors.

Manu Minute, Kalij pheasant (6-22) Spectrogram Video.mp4

Audio credit: Doug Pratt/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (ML5281)

Patrick Hart is the host of HPR's Manu Minute. He runs the Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems (LOHE) Lab at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson is the Lab Manager & Research Technician in the Hart Lab/Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems (LOHE) Bioacoustics Lab. She researches the ecology, bioacoustics, and conservation of our native Hawaiian forests, birds, and bats.
Savannah Harriman-Pote is a producer for The Conversation and Manu Minute. Contact her at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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