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Palawan peacock-pheasant

Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis)
Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis)

The Palawan peacock-pheasant, Polyplectron napoleonis, is endemic to the island of Palawan in the Philippines. I was not sure how easy it would be to see this species during my visit in April, but it proved to be surprising easy.

Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis)
Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis)

The best site to see one is probably at the Puerto Princesa (formerly St Paul’s) Subterranean River National Park on Palawan, Philippines. I came across one within five minutes of getting off the boat!

Puerto Princesa (formerly St Paul’s) Subterranean River National Park on Palawan
Puerto Princesa (formerly St Paul’s) Subterranean River National Park on Palawan

It was very confiding and suggested to me that it was regularly fed, although I could be wrong; certainly it was habituated to humans. Large numbers of people arrive at this site every day to visit the spectacular underground river. A few birders come to see the pheasant (and the underground river!).

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, waiting for boats
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, waiting for boats

The Palawan Peacock Pheasant (Polyplecton emphanum) has declined in number due to habitat destruction and hunting, but a thorough survey in the park (1) led to the numbers being revised upwards. The species’s population is now conservatively placed in the band 20,000-49,999 individuals by BirdLife International (2). I would not be surprised if that is an over-estimate though.

Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis)
Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis)

Also hopping around near the back of the generator shed – and looking suspiciously tame – was a hooded pitta. Still, I was very pleased to see it (sorry about the fill-in flash mate!). He/she didn’t seem to mind.

Hooded Pitta (Pitta sordida palawanensis)
Hooded Pitta (Pitta sordida palawanensis)

I also came across a pair of Palawan peacock-pheasants, plus chick, at the Palawan Butterfly Eco-Garden and Tribal Village, in Puerto Princesa City. They said they were keeping it for breeding purposes. Well it seems this pheasant is bred all around the world. Google it and you will find that you can buy one for £380! (3)

Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis) captive PP
Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis) captive PP

The background colour of the tail of the peacock-pheasant is black, but finely speckled with buff spots and with two rows of large and conspicuous green-blue ocelli (or eye-shaped spots). The male displays the spectacular tail to the female in a circular fan during courtship (4, 5).

In peacocks, the mating success of the males was correlated with the brightness and iridescence of the blue-green eyespots (6); the females are in effect choosing the fittest males based on these features. It seems likely, that sexual selection of Palawan peacock pheasant males by the females also involves these spectacular iridescent, light reflective, ocelli or eyespots. Why else would males invest so much energy into them? They are probably a true measure of the fitness of the male birds, as in the case of peacocks.

It makes me wonder what happens in the wild? Are there lek sites where the Palawan peacock pheasant females can evaluate a number of different males? If there are, they are deep in the hot forested hills of Palawan.

  1. Mallari, N. A. D.; Collar, N. J.; Lee, D. C.; McGowan, P. J. K.; Wilkinson, R.; Marsden, S. J. 2011. Population densities of understorey birds across a habitat gradient in Palawan, Philippines: implications for conservation. Oryx 45(2): 234-242.
  6. Dakin, R., & Montgomerie, R. (2013). Eye for an eyespot: how iridescent plumage ocelli influence peacock mating success. Behavioral Ecology, art045.

rcannon992 View All

I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.

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