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Birds of Thailand

Species of Thailand

Silver pheasant

Thai: ไก่ฟ้าหลังขาว, kai faa lang khao

Binomial name: Lophura nycthemera, Carolus Linnaeus, 1758

The silver pheasant (Lophura nycthemera) is a species of pheasant found in forests, mainly in mountains, of mainland Southeast Asia, and eastern and southern China, with introduced populations in Hawaii and various locations in the US mainland. The male is black and white, while the female is mainly brown. Both sexes have a bare red face and red legs (the latter separating it from the greyish-legged kalij pheasant). It is common in aviculture, and overall also remains common in the wild, but some of its subspecies (notably whiteheadi from Hainan, engelbachi from southern Laos, and annamensis from southern Vietnam) are rare and threatened.


Like other pheasants, the silver pheasant was placed in the genus Phasianus when described by Linnaeus in 1758. Since then it – or at least some of the subspecies associated with it – have been placed either in Euplocamus or Gennceus. Today all major authorities place the silver pheasant in Lophura.

The silver pheasant is closely related to the kalij pheasant and the two are known to hybridize. The placement of the taxa lineata and crawfurdi has been a matter of dispute, with some treating them as subspecies of the kalij pheasant and others as subspecies of the silver pheasant. They have greyish legs as in the kalij pheasant, but their plumage is closer to that of some subspecies of the silver pheasant. Additionally, as the silver pheasant, lineata and crawfurdi are found east of the Irrawaddy River, a major zoogeographic barrier, while all other subspecies of the kalij pheasant are found west of the river (oatesi, a subspecies of the kalij pheasant, has sometimes been reported as occurring east of that river, but this is incorrect). Based on mtDNA, it was recently confirmed that lineata and crawfurdi should be regarded as subspecies of the kalij pheasant.

With these two as subspecies of the kalij pheasant, the silver pheasant has 15 subspecies. However, while some subspecies are relatively distinctive, several others (at least rufipes, occidentalis, ripponi, jonesi, beaulieui, nycthemera and fokiensis) are likely part of a cline, which, if confirmed, would result in them being junior synonyms of the nominate subspecies. Several other taxa, for example andersoni, are now considered invalid by all major authorities.

Once considered a very rare species, the imperial pheasant is actually a naturally occurring hybrid between the silver pheasant and the Vietnamese pheasant.


This is a relatively large pheasant, with males of the largest subspecies having a total length of 120 to 125 cm, including a tail of up to 75 cm, while the males of the smallest subspecies barely reach 70 cm in total length, including a tail of about 30 cm. The body mass of males can range from 1.13 - 2 kg. Females of all subspecies are notably smaller than their respective males, with a size range of 55 - 90 cm in total length, including a tail of 24 - 32 cm. The body mass of females can range from 1 - 1.3 kg.

Males of the northern subspecies, which are the largest, have white upperparts and tail (most feathers with some black markings), while their underparts and crest are glossy bluish-black. The males of the southern subspecies have greyer upperparts and tail with extensive black markings, making them appear far darker than the northern subspecies. The adult male plumage is reached in the second year.

Females are brown and shorter-tailed than the males. Females of some subspecies have whitish underparts strongly patterned with black, and in whiteheadi this extends to the upper mantle.

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Scientific classification

Lophura nycthemera

Common names

  • Thai: ไก่ฟ้าหลังขาว, kai faa lang khao


  • Lophura nycthemera annamensis, William Robert Ogilvie-Grant, 1906

    Common name: Annam silver pheasant

    Range: Montane forests of southern Vietnam

  • Lophura nycthemera beaulieui, Jean Théodore Delacour, 1948

    Common name: Lao silver pheasant

    Range: South central China to northern Laos and northern Vietnam

  • Lophura nycthemera beli, Émile Oustalet, 1898

    Common name: Bel's silver pheasant

    Range: Eastern slopes of Annamite Range in central Vietnam

  • Lophura nycthemera berliozi, Jean Théodore Delacour & Pierre Jabouille, 1928

    Common name: Berlioz's silver pheasant

    Range: Western slopes of Annamite Range in central Vietnam

  • Lophura nycthemera engelbachi, Jean Théodore Delacour, 1948

    Common name: Boloven silver pheasant

    Range: Bolaven Plateau of southern Laos

  • Lophura nycthemera fokiensis, Jean Théodore Delacour, 1948

    Common name: Fokien silver pheasant

    Range: Southeastern China

  • Lophura nycthemera jonesi, Eugene William Oates, 1903

    Common name: Jones's pheasant

    Range: Myanmar to southwestern China and central Thailand

  • Lophura nycthemera lewisi, Jean Théodore Delacour & Pierre Jabouille, 1928

    Common name: Lewis's silver pheasant

    Range: Mountains of southwest Cambodia and southeast Thailand

  • Lophura nycthemera nycthemera (nominate), Carolus Linnaeus, 1758

    Range: Southern China to northern Vietnam

  • Lophura nycthemera occidentalis, Jean Théodore Delacour, 1948

    Range: Western silver pheasant – south central China and northeastern Myanmar

  • Lophura nycthemera omeiensis, Tso-hsin Cheng, Chun-fan Chang & Jui-chang Tang, 1964

    Common name: Szechwan silver pheasant

    Range: Southern Sichuan in south central China

  • Lophura nycthemera ripponi, Richard Bowdler Sharpe, 1902

    Common name: Rippon's silver pheasant

    Range: Southern Shan State of northern Myanmar

  • Lophura nycthemera rongjiangensi, Yao-kuang Tan & Zhikang Wu, 1981

    Common name: Kweichow silver pheasant

    Range: Southeastern Guizhou in south central China

  • Lophura nycthemera rufipes, Eugene William Oates, 1898

    Common name: Ruby mines silver pheasant

    Range: Northern Shan State of northern Myanmar

  • Lophura nycthemera whiteheadi, William Robert Ogilvie-Grant, 1899

    Common name: Hainan silver pheasant

    Range: Hainan in southern China

Conservation status

Least Concern (IUCN3.1)

Least Concern (IUCN3.1)

Distribution map of Silver pheasant, Lophura nycthemera in Thailand

Range map of Lophura nycthemera in Thailand

Important note; our range maps are based on limited data we have collected. The data is not necessarily accurate or complete.

Special thanks to Ton Smits, Parinya Pawangkhanant, Ian Dugdale and many others for their contribution for range data.

It is free to use this map on various media. See the creative common license terms by clicking "CC" icon below the map. But remember, again; the map may not be accurate or complete.

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