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Manu Minute: The Flashy Kalij Pheasant

A. Tanimoto-Johnson, Kalij pheasant AMT_ED2A6015.jpg
Ann Tanimoto-Johnson
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
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.

Special thanks to the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for today's field recordings.

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

Patrick Hart interests in the ecology and conservation of Hawaiian forests and forest birds stem from years of living in a primitive field camp as a graduate student in the 1990’s at Hakalau Forest National wildlife refuge.
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 rejoined The Conversation in 2021 after interning for Hawaiʻi Public Radio in the summers of 2018 and 2019. She completed her undergraduate degree in International Relations at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, during which time she worked for WMHC and Mount Holyoke News. She has also worked with the audio documentary series Outer Voices and National Geographic.
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