The Bridge Between Ancient China and Our Aviaries


After a couple of months of interning at Pandemonium Aviaries, I accompanied another intern on a monthly census of the aviaries. As we looked into the Last Aviary, I suddenly realized that in the very corner lived someone I had been neglecting those first weeks. This someone had ancestors who lived in mountainous western China, but he had made a home for himself in our Northern Californian sanctuary.

I had previously stumbled upon the Chinese Golden Pheasant page on our website, but he is so shy and so likes to be tucked away by bamboo in the Last Aviary, I thought perhaps that page was a remnant of days past and we no longer had one.

A big mistake on my part.

Yes, the East African Crown cranes are showy, territorial and loud. And the Eastern Rosellas have colors that confound the mind. And Spock, the Vulturine Guineafowl, is patient and interested in mingling as he slowly makes his way toward you to say hello. With all of the hullabaloo, the spectacles in the aviary can be overwhelming, and quieter birds, like the Golden pheasant named Dartanian, can go unnoticed. But when you finally are lucky enough to spot this fellow, you can't imagine having been blind to him before. His golden and scarlet plumage make him a treasure to be found.

Unbeknownst to my fickle birding eyes, Golden pheasants have been praised in Chinese culture and tradition for centuries. They have been hailed as symbols of beauty, luck, energy, and sophistication.

In the Song Dynasty, women wore robes decorated with image of these pheasants, and by the Yuan Dynasty, these pheasants were associated with women of nobility. During the Ming Dynasty, depictions of Golden Pheasants were used to symbolize rank on the badges of political officers and civil servants. On these badges, they are illustrated standing on a rock and looking to the sun, to symbolize imperial power and the emperor. As time went on, these birds were also prized as decorations on porcelain, particularly on tea sets, or as embellishments on paper goods. They are also represented in a number of ancient paintings. Some even theorize that the pheasant's brilliant feathers are linked to phoenix legends.

It is no surprise that their colorful feathers should be treasured, even more so when one considers how long they can be. Their tails alone can account for two thirds of their total body length! In recent years, a number of mutations have arisen causing ever more unusual plumage in captive Golden Pheasants. As most of the avian world, the females are a blander, browner color while the males have a yellow-red crest accompanying their bright feathers. Regardless, they are a pleasure to watch. And when I look into the Last Aviary now, I make sure to look for the shimmer of wings in the corners. The closer you look, the more you see.

By Iva Petrovchich