The Great Argus, Argusianus argus, was named by Carolus Linnaeus for the many eyes-like pattern on its wings. In Greek mythology, Argus is a hundred-eyed giant. It is also known as Phoenix in some Asian areas.
Distribution / Range
This pheasant’s natural habitat can be found in the jungles of Borneo, Sumatra and Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia, where it can be seen feeding on the forest floors in the early mornings and evenings.
They appear to prefer primary forest areas; they are progressively less common in old and young secondary forests.
Breeding / Nesting
The Great Argus’s breeding display is 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 the hundred of flashy “eye-spots” eyes.
The Great Argus is monogamous.
The hen lays only two eggs.
There are two living sub-species and, presumably, one extinct:
- Malaysian Great Argus (A. a. argus) is native to the Malay Peninsula and Sumatracan.
- Bornean Great Argus (A. a. grayi) is found only on Borneo. The Bornean Great Argus is slightly smaller than the Malaysian Great Angus and can be distinguished by the burnt orange on the breast and neck and they have more white spotting.
- Double-banded Argus ( A. a. bipunctatus) is known only from a portion of a primary feather of uncertain origin. Its origin was hypothesized to be from Java, Indonesia or Tioman Island of Malaysia. Parkes (1992) vehemently rejected the “species” validity and argued that the Double-banded Argus almost certainly represents a mutant form of the Great Argus. The IUCN lists this taxon as extinct. The feather is now housed in the British Natural History Museum.
The Great Argus, Argusianus argus is large – in fact, the male is amongst the largest of all pheasants measuring up to 6.5 feet (~2m) in length. This pheasant has very long tail feathers.
The plumage is mostly rusty brown with intricate buff and black spots and patterns. The underparts are a darker rufous color. It has black hair-like feathers on the crown and nape, and red legs.
The male’s most spectacular features are its huge, broad and greatly elongated secondary wing feathers decorated with large eye-spots. Young males attain adult plumage in their third year.
The female looks similar, but is generally smaller and the plumage is duller than that of the male. She has a shorter and less ornate tail and wing feathers, and has fewer “eye-spot” markings. Her plumage is a darker rufous.
Both sexes share the blue bare skin of their heads and necks, short dark crests, red feet and yellow bills. Their irises are red brown..
- The male’s tail feathers are among the longest of any other bird.
- The feathers of the wings and tails are used by Bornean cultures for ornamental head dresses.
- Unlike other pheasants, the Great Argus has no oil gland.
Male makes explosive, clear, double note kow wow often in response to the calls of other males or a perceived danger. Another call, made by either sex, is a series of 20 or so clear wow notes on the same pitch, rising and speeding up slightly at the end.
Listed as a CITES II, a near-threatened species, the primary threat to survival is habitat destruction and hunting in some areas.
They are believed to be in good numbers on the Malay Peninsula and on Borneo, but the Sumatran population is in rapid decline.
Keeping and Breeding the Great Argus Pheasant
These large pheasants are calm and gentle birds with a great personality. They are rarely seen in private aviculture even though they are not difficult to keep or raise. However, they do need heated accommodation in the winter and, therefore, are expensive to keep in the colder climates.
Young males attain adult plumage in their third years. The wings can continue to grow until the bird reaches its sixth year.
The hens make excellent mothers. They only average 2 eggs per clutch which the hens incubate for 25 days. If breeders pull the first clutch, the hen will produce a second – and often even a third clutch.
It is not recommended to allow her to lay more clutches in a season as this could result in health problems, or the hen may take a break and not lay for another two years. It is a good practice to allow her to raise the last clutch by herself.
Breeders may decide to incubate the first, occasionally second clutch, and raise the hatching young in a brooder. Chicks are fed chick starter and mealworms. The chicks grow fast and are very friendly.
They need a varied diet, which includes greens, turkey pellets*, meal worms, raisins, apples and oranges.
- *Please note: When feeding pellets, please be aware of the fact that overly feeding citrus fruits (including oranges) to your birds can lead to “Iron Overload Disease.” These friendly pheasants will usually accept treats, such as peanuts, out of your hand.
They also enjoy peanuts.
- Avianweb Note: Peanuts are often contaminated with aflatoxin, a fungal toxin. Aflatoxin is carcinogenic and causes liver damage in birds, other animals, and even humans. Roasting reduces aflatoxin but does not eliminate it entirely. North American peanut producers are currently working on eliminating contaminated peanuts from their products. Especially peanuts with dark spots on them should be considered suspect, but even those that look clean and perfect could possibly be contaminated.
These pheasants should be provided a spacious, planted aviary with large heated indoor shelter to protect them from the elements.
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