On 21st October 2021, the government of Jammu & Kashmir declared Kaleej pheasant as its UT bird. Prior to the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two separate union territories, Black necked crane had been a state bird.
The Kaleej pheasant (Lophura leucomelanos, Latham 1790) is a medium sized bird that belongs to the family Phasianidae of the Aves order Galliformes. It is a common and widely distributed pheasant species that is found in evergreen and deciduous forests. It is distributed in the foothills of Himalayas extending its range from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, to western Thailand.
Like most members of the family Phasianidae, the Kaleej pheasant is a highly dimorphic bird, with clear distinction between males and females. The males are characterized by shiny and metallic bluish-black body plumage whereas the females are usually brownish in color. Head is bare and red colored in both sexes and the legs are grayish. Crest is bent backwards and a vertically compressed tail is present.
Males are larger than females, averaging about 70 cm in length and weighing about 800-1150 grams, whereas females are generally 55 cm in length and weigh around 500-1000 grams. There are 9 sub-species of Kaleej pheasant which has been reported till now. In our Kashmir the white crested Kaleej (Lophura leucomelanos hamiltoni, J.E Gray, 1829) is found. This species is distinguished by having a white crest; while as in all other species the crest is bluish-black.
All the species of Kaleej are ground dwelling birds and are non migratory in nature. Regarding their feeding behavior, Kaleej mostly feeds on roots, seeds, small reptiles and insects. The bird breeds in the month of May and June. At the global level, the IUCN has listed the Kaleej pheasant under the least concern category. The current population status, however, of the bird is unknown and has not been quantified. Nevertheless, the IUCN suggested a declining population trend for this bird.
(The author is a Research Scholar in the Department of Zoology, University of Kashmir)