I could not quite believe it, upon interrogating Google to find out some useful information about our resident cock pheasant and his cheerful harem of three hens, expecting to be pointed towards a Wiki-pedia entry, only to find that ‘Tweet-a-pedia” had quite the most intriguing set of facts to be conjuring with. Wow, somebody clever had better register the name, if they haven’t already!
Anyway, I wanted to figure out something of the pheasant social dynamics going on in our garden. I already knew that when Mr. Pheasant has a certain urge, he is absolutely committed to the charge, until with the merest flicker of disinterest, Mrs. P dissuades him and then carefully ambles into a low bush with drooping branches, where he can’t reach her. ‘Not now dear, I’m not really in the mood.’ And yet, quite often, she is receptive to his importunings, and their cloacas merge. Bird sex is not really that exciting, I guess, as the hens always seem to be dusting themselves off after, and just want to get on with their normal eating tasks, though they might fluff their feathers back out, while the cock might manage to look just a bit dazed. No, really, I’ve watched him — it takes several moments until he’s fully himself again!
Still, thanks Tweet-a-pedia, for offering me the information that pheasant harems can range from 3-7 hens, with one proudly successful cock dividing his energies among his flock. Once fertilisation is finished, and the hen has laid all her eggs, the cock pheasant’s job is complete, and he can strut away and have fun fights with the lesser males who are always lurking within striking range, in case an opportunity should arise. Sometimes two hens will share a nest which can then hold up to 20 eggs or so. I’m imagining that the three hens in our garden have a nest or two out in the field somewhere, from which they emerge into the garden to quickly peck up the wild bird seed I scatter with smaller birds in mind. But it’s worth it just for the daily intrigue offered by the larger fowl, I have to say, and the tiny sparrows, finches, wagtail and robin seem to be quite satisfied with the smaller pickings anyway.
Indeed, we can’t wait to see if someday a little train of baby pheasant chicks might come into the garden behind their mother, on the trail of lovely and convenient seeds. Really, that would be quite cute, I think.
Oh yeah, the other thing that’s intriguing about cock pheasants is when they might crow: apparently they’re rather keen on adding their voice to thunder, or gun battles, but more importantly, they’re said to be an early warning of an imminent earthquake. If the cock pheasants in the field should suddenly start crowing all at once, I’d want to get out of the house immediately! Everybody knows, of course, how startling they sound when flushed suddenly into flight.
As is often the case with creatures and peoples otherwise thought to be indigenous to these isles, pheasants too were imported, apparently coming in with the Romans, who procured them from their native China and East Asia. I don’t believe the birds managed to build a wall of their own though. Not like the black grouse (who are indigenous to northern Eurasia), who stamp out their lek carefully, making a kind of ‘pitch’ not unlike the one in cricket, I guess, on which to strut. No, pheasants are happy to have their fights, and their preening displays to their hens, on just about any sort of surface.
Over all of this activity, solitary Gordon the guinea fowl observes with a studied nonchalance (as long as nobody tries to grab his meal worms! . . . occasionally managing to chase the crows away from the bird seed station) and Earnest the neighbour’s peacock tries to dazzle with his multi-eyed tail feathers (entirely unsuccessfully). It’s a never-ending round of intrigue, both foul and fair, eliciting much mirth and merriment up here on the windy fellside, but it keeps our laugh-lines pretty much constantly creased!