All About Great Argus

The Great Argus (also known as Phoenix in some Asian areas) is a brown-plumaged pheasant with a small blue head and neck, rufous red upper breast, black hair-like feathers on crown and nape, and red legs. The male is among the largest of all pheasants, with up to 200cm in length. It has very long tail feathers. The male's most spectacular features are its huge, broad and greatly elongated secondary wing feathers decorated with large ocelli. The female is smaller and duller than male, with shorter tails and less ocelli. Young males attain adult plumage in their third year.

The Great Argus is distributed in the jungles of Borneo, Sumatra and Malay Peninsula in southeast Asia. It feeds on forest floor in early morning and evening. Unusual among Galliformes, the Great Argus has no oil gland and the hen lays only two eggs.

Though the Great Argus is not as colorful as other pheasants, its display surely ranks among the most remarkable. The male clears an open spot in the forest and prepares a dancing ground. He announces himself with loud calls to attract females, then he dances before her with his wings spread into two enormous fans, revealing hundred of "eyes" while his real eyes are hidden behind it, staring at her.

Despite displays similar to polygamous birds and though the Great Argus is thought to be polygamous in the wild, it is actually monogamous .

The scientific name of the Great Argus was given by Carolus Linnaeus in reference to the many eyes-like pattern on its wings. Argus is a hundred-eyed giant in Greek mythology.

Due to ongoing habitat loss and hunted in some areas, the Great Argus is evaluated as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. It is listed on Appendix II of CITES.

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Palawan Peacock-pheasant Information

The Palawan Peacock-pheasant also known as the Napoleon Peacock-pheasant, is a medium-sized (up to 50 cm long) bird in the family Phasianidae.

The male is the handsomest and most peacock-like member of the genus Polyplectron. It has an erectile crest, a white stripe over the eyes and highly iridescent metallic green and black plumage. The tail feathers are decorated with large blue-green ocelli, which may be spread fanlike in courtship displays. The female is smaller than the male. It has a dark brown plumage with a short crest and is whitish on the throat, cheeks and eyebrows.

Endemic to the Philippines, the Palawan Peacock-pheasant is found in the humid forests of Palawan Island in the southern part of the Philippine archipelago. The female usually lays up to two eggs.

The Palawan Peacock-pheasant, with its unique male plumage and distant range, represents a basal (Early? Pliocene, c.5-4 mya) offshoot of the genus Polyplectron (Kimball et al. 2001).

Due to ongoing habitat loss, small population size and limited range as well as hunting and capture for trade, the Palawan Peacock-pheasant is classified as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is listed on Appendix I of CITES.

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Malayan Peacock-pheasant

It is one of the shortest-tailed peacock-pheasants. Adult males are about 50 cm long, about half of which is made up by the tail. Their tarsus measures approximately 6.5 cm, and their wings are 20–21 cm long; they weigh from over 600 to nearly 700 g. Their plumage is generally pale brown with small black spots and bands all over, creating the "salt-and-pepper" effect found in most peacock-pheasants. It has iridescent blue-green eyespots with a buff border on its upperwings, back, and on the 22 rectrices, a white throat running down to the center of the breast, and a loose, pointed and upturned dark blue-green crest on its forehead. A bare facial skin surrounds the eyes with their bluish-white iris; usually pink, it becomes bright orange-red during courtship. The bill and legs are blackish.

The female is slightly smaller than the male, with a noticeably shorter tail; measuring about 40 cm overall, its tail is slightly less than 20 cm long, while its tarsus measures c.6 cm and its wing length is 18 cm. Adult Females weigh about 450-550 g. Their plumage is duller than in males, with a vestigial crest and eyespots only on remiges and rectrices. On the wing coverts and back, they have dark dots instead, which are pointed towards the feather tip.

Young birds resemble females but have even less-developed eyespots and usually lack them entirely except on the rectrices. The downy hatchlings are pale chestnut-brown above and buff below.


mtDNA cytochrome b and D-loop as well as the nuclear ovomucoid intron G sequence data places the Malayan Peacock-pheasant within the basal radiation of its genus, together with the even more elusive Bornean Peacock-pheasant (P. schleiermacheri) – its sister species –, and the even more basal Palawan Peacock-pheasant (P. napoleonis). The common ancestor of the Malayan and Bornean Peackock-pheasants probably diverged from its relatives during the Pliocene or maybe Late Miocene, about 5 million years ago (Ma) perhaps.

When the lineages of Borneo and Malaya diverged has not been studied; considering the phylogeny of Polyplectron, an Early Pleistocene date, roughly around 1 Ma, seems reasonable. In that regard, it is probably significant that Borneo was connected to the Southeast Asian mainland during Pleistocene glacial periods with low sea levels. In any case, the phylogeny and biogeography of the basal peacock-pheasants agrees with the idea of reproductive isolation due to rising sea levels during the last ice age's interglacials, whereas the more advanced Polyplectron species are limited to today's mainland Southeast Asia.


A shy and elusive bird, the Malayan Peacock-pheasant is endemic to lowland forests of the Malay Peninsula form the Isthmus of Kra region southwards. At one time, this species was widespread in Malaysia and Thailand, and reported from southern Myanmar, Sumatra and Singapore, but it probably never occurred in the former two at least in historic times. It has since disappeared from most of its former range, with the remaining population being confined to the lowlands of central Malaysia, perhaps extending barely into Thailand. Although nothing certain is known, there is nothing to suggest that this species is anything other than a sedentary bird; individuals probably do not move a long distance from their place of hatching. They are somewhat territorial, but the ranges of several birds probably overlap except for the core areas. Males move about in an area of approximately 10-60 hectars, while the ranges of females are half that size. The average population density in suitable habitat is estimated as slightly less than 7 adult birds per square kilometer.

It inhabits mainly dipterocarp rainforest up to 150 m ASL, rarely occurring even as low as 300 m ASL. While it can utilize secondary forest, such habitat does not seem to be optimal. Its feeding habits are little-studied, but it probably eats a mix of plant matter (particularly fruits) and small arthropods like its better-known relatives. It forages in typical galliform fashion, by scratching and pecking just like an ordinary farmyard chicken. Recorded food items include insects such as Diptera, Orthoptera and Hymenoptera (e.g. carpenter ants, Camponotus), and fruits and seeds of Annonaceae, Fabaceae and Fagaceae (e.g. stone oaks, Lithocarpus). Other items found in Malayan Peacock-pheasant stomachs were probably not ingested deliberately; they include moss, twigs, rootlets and part of an Apocynaceae flower.


Malayan Peacock-pheasants are polygynous or promiscuous, and do not form lasting pair bonds. The mating season is not well resolved; recently-used nests have been found in March, April and August. Breeding activity may in fact occur essentially all year round (as in many lowland rainforest birds), triggered by abundance of mast rather than by a fixed circannual rhythm. Males scrape the debris and leaf litter off their display sites in forest clearings, from where they call to attract females. They show off the large eyespots on remiges and rectrices to potential mates while standing in their display, both while facing them and alongside them.

As usual for Galliformes, the males' contribution to reproduction ends after copulation. The nest is very vestigial, consisting just of a few twigs and large leaves scraped together on low-lying firm ground, be it on a termite mound a short distance above the forest floor, or the forest floor itself. P. malacense is one of the few pheasants known with certainty to have a one-egg clutch. Incubation takes probably 22–23 days. The species is not infrequently bred in zoos.

[edit] Status and conservation

Due to ongoing habitat loss, small population size and limited range, the Malayan Peacock-pheasant is evaluated as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Its classification is VU A2cd+3 cd+4 cd, meaning that its numbers have declined about two-thirds in the last decade or so, and that this trend is expected to last for another decade at least. It is listed on CITES Appendix II.

Deforestation is the main threat for this species, and has rendered more than half of the places where it was found in the 1970s unsuitable for it. The available habitat has even declined by over three-quarters during that time, indicating that the population – estimated at about 8.000 adults as of 2008 – is close to the maximum possible, as less and less suitable forest is not inhabitated by P. malacense. It used to be hunted for food or as a trophy, but comparing to deforestation these threats are nearly insignificant nowadays.

While a small amount of selective logging is tolerated by this bird, it depends on sufficient primary forest to persist. Most Malayan Peacock-pheasants today live in protected areas in Malaysia, namely Taman Negara National Park and Krau Wildlife Reserve in Pahang, and perhaps Sungkai Sambar Deer and Pheasant Wildlife Reserve in Perak and Sungai Dusun Wildlife Reserve in Selangor. There are also a few reports from less strictly-protected areas, such as Pasoh Forest Reserve in Negeri Sembilan. In areas where they receive protection and where suitable habitat is plentiful, the Malayan Peacock-pheasant can be fairly common, and thus become a flagship species for ecotourism and other forms of sustainable development. A zoo population exists, numbering 189 birds in 35 sites in 1993. Its studbook is maintained by the New York Zoological Society and Wildlife Conservation International. The Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Malaysia is preparing a captive breeding program to bolster the population in reserves and prevent inbreeding depression by release of captive-bred birds.

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Germain's Peacock-pheasant Information

The Germain's Peacock-pheasant is a medium-sized, approximately 60 cm long, brownish dark pheasant with finely spotted buff, short crest, bare red facial skin, brown iris and purplish-blue ocelli on upperbody plumage and half of its tail of twenty feathers. Both sexes are similar. The female has eighteen tail feathers and is smaller than male.

The Germain's Peacock-pheasant is endemic to southern Indochina. It is found in semi-evergreen dry forests of southern Vietnam and eastern Cambodia. The female usually lays two creamy-white eggs.

The phylogeny of this species is somewhat enigmatic. mtDNA cytochrome b and D-loop as well as the nuclear ovomucoid intron G data confirms that it belongs to a clade together with the Grey Peacock-pheasant, but also the "brown" southernly species Bronze-tailed Peacock-pheasant and Mountain Peacock-pheasant. Biogeography suggests that it may indeed be the most ancient form in its clade, speciating parapatrically or peripatrically in Cochinchina (Kimball et al. 2001). This probably took place in the Late Pliocene, roughly 4-3 mya.

The name commemorates the French colonial army's veterinary surgeon Louis Rodolphe Germain.

Due to ongoing habitat loss and limited range, the Germain's Peacock-pheasant is evaluated as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is listed on Appendix II of CITES.

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Mountain Peacock-pheasant

The Mountain Peacock-pheasant, also known as Rothschild's Peacock-pheasant or Mirror Pheasant is a medium-sized, up to 65cm long, blackish brown pheasant with small ocelli and long graduated tail feathers. Both sexes are similar. The male has metallic blue ocelli on upperparts, green ocelli on tail of twenty feathers and two spurs on legs. Female has black ocelli on upperparts, unspurred legs and tail of eighteen feathers. The female is smaller and duller than male.

A shy and elusive bird, the Mountain Peacock-pheasant is distributed and endemic to mountain forests of central Malay Peninsula. The diet consists mainly of berries, beetles and ants.

mtDNA cytochrome b and D-loop as well as the nuclear ovomucoid intron G data confirms that this species belongs to a clade together with the Bronze-tailed Peacock-pheasant, but also the mainland species Germain's Peacock-pheasant and Grey Peacock-pheasant (Kimball et al. 2001).

The molecular data suggests - though not with high confidence - that this species diverged from mainland stock earlier than the Bronze-tailed Peacock-pheasant. This is quite spurious, since its biogeography and derived plumage, and the fact that it is a peninsular mountain endemic indicate it is derived from a fairly small founder population; this would confound molecular analyses. What seems clear is that the present species evolved from mainland Southeast Asian stock, probably during the Late Pliocene to Early Pleistocene (3.6-1 mya). The unique pattern of wings and tail thus is, contrary to long-held opinion, an autapomorphy, and the southern species of this clade - formerly separated in the genus Chalcurus - are probably not each other's closest relatives.

Due to ongoing habitat loss, small population size and limited range, the Mountain Peacock-pheasant is evaluated as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is listed on Appendix III of CITES in Malaysia.

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