My own Pheasant’s little tail

Cock Pheasant

“I’m not the Pheasant Plucker, I’m the Pheasant Plucker’s son. And I’m sitting plucking pheasants ’til the Pheasant Plucker comes.”

So goes the Old English rhyme and tongue twister.

I thought with this blog I would talk about the common Pheasant, as the wife and myself are observing their behaviours yet again whilst sitting in our garden and enjoying the pleasant weather and what I have researched on them on the back of our observations of these birds.

Em and the pheasants
Em and the pheasants

A brief history
The Pheasant species is not a native bird to Britain, they are native to Eastern Europe and Asia and many species of Pheasants have been introduced to our lands over a long history of time to this present day.

There are a few Roman archaeological sites in Britain containing remains of pheasant bones. Still, there is no evidence of them being bred here at this moment of time and evidence of them from this time seems to have disappeared with the Romans when they left Britain.

The first written record of Pheasants in Britain is when King Harold in 1059 gifted the Cannons of Waltham abbey a ‘Commons’ Pheasant instead of a brace of Partridge and another written record in 1089 Monks of Rochester received sixteen pheasants along with other various gifts.

It was with the Norman-French after they arrived on our shores that they introduced the concept of Pheasants as game birds for hunting and passed a series of laws for protecting these birds for their sport.

When firearms first arrived in Britain in around 1500 shooting Pheasants for sport really took off, but most Anglo-French nobility would have used crossbows and Hawks to hunt these birds usually targeting them either when perching or on the ground.

During the 17th century due to woodland clearance and drainage of the marshes these Pheasants came close to extinction. It was in the 18th century that new inductions of the Chinese ring-neck pheasant (Phasianus colchicus torqautus) were introduced to this country.

With the invention of the double-barreled shotgun, pheasant-driven shoots with beaters and dogs became popular and have been the mainstay of this country’s pheasant shooting.

From the 19th century till the present day many species of pheasants have been introduced and crossbred to create the perfect game bird and now have become a mongrel breed. so, to call the common pheasant by its Latin name Phasianus colchicus may be truer to label them Phasianus sp. As there are at least 30 sub species of the common pheasant due to this.

The Pheasant itself
The Pheasant population in Britain of female breeding birds according to the RSPB in 2016 is around about 2.4 million, but as game pheasant birds are annually released by game shoots of anything between 47 – 50 million birds this would be a very variable assumption. The pheasants are not killed by shooting, poaching, predators, disease, starvation, or vehicle-induced stupidity are left to survive and breed in the wild. So, the actual number of breeding birds may be higher than this.

Pheasant tracks
Pheasant tracks
Cocks birds fighting
Cocks birds fighting

Key Pheasant facts:

  • Latin name: Phasianus Colchicus (or Phasianus sp).
  • Family: Phasianidae.
  • Length: 50 – 90 cm.
  • Wingspan: 75 – 90cm.
  • Weight: 750g – 2kg.
  • Average life span: 1-2 years.
  • Habitat: The woodland edge, hedgerows, orchards, arable fields, and reed beds, in the Heather, on the edge of the moorlands and in our garden.
  • Diet: (Omnivore) Seeds, grains, shoots, insects.

While Pheasants can fly then glide, their preferred method to escape is to run away on their powerful legs, however, if startled they will burst into the sky in a ‘flush’ with the wing speed of between 38 – 48 miles per hour when cruising, but when chased they can reach up to 60 miles per hour.

The pheasant is a ground-dwelling bird but will take to the trees and higher hedgerows to roost at the start of dusk and will remain roosting until dawn returns.

Cock Pheasant
Cock Pheasant

The Male pheasant (Cock)
The male has a red face, a glossy green head and neck with or without a white neck ring, a flecked russet plumage and a long strip tail with spurs on the back of its legs for fighting with other cock birds over territory and hens which some sources say can last for about 18 minutes. Whilst they are fighting they can be oblivious to things around them as I found out when I was driving a Land Rover up the driveway and they still carried on fighting when I was heading straight at them. They are very territorial and will chase other cock pheasants but, in our observation, they will share the same garden with another older pheasant with its harem of hens. They will chase off other younger cock pheasants who are trying their luck with the hens, more about that later. I even had one cock pheasant try and attack me when I was trying to take photos of the hen pheasants, but he soon learnt that a pointy elbow thrust to his chest was not a nice blow to him.  Apart from this episode, we find the cock pheasants were the first to trust human interaction before the hens. I must admit one year whilst I was reading outside, I received a tap-tap on my boot from a cock pheasant wanting some food and will brazenly try and enter your house looking for us to give them food. They will make a call that we are all hear at some point is that of the Cor-Kuk sound and then the furious flapping of their wings it is either a territory call or a mating call. Theirs is another noise not found in any of my research in books or websites is the sound made when they are grazing, they make this constant sound Hrmmph-hrmph and when flushed and taken to the air they will make a sound of Gug-Gug, Gug.

Hen Pheasant
Hen Pheasant

The Female Pheasant (Hen)
The hen is smaller than the cock and is less colourful, due to nesting on the ground and the need for concealment from predators the hen is mottled cream-brown buff with a shorter striped tail. In the U.S., the bracket fungi Cerioporus squamosus (Dryads saddle) is commonly known as Pheasants back and looking at the back of a hen pheasant you can see why. They are more skittish and shyer than the cock birds but once they feel safe with human interaction, they can be bolder with you and will try to be faster than the cock pheasant for the opportunity for food and again they will walk into your kitchen in search of you for food. Another thing we have observed is if a Cock pheasant has just found something to graze or eat on a hen pheasant will race in and take it and the cock pheasant will just walk away and try to find something else to feed upon. The hen pheasant is quieter than the cock in vocal noises but occasionally when they were grazing, I have heard them make a small croaking noise like a frog, also when surprised by and jump on by the opportunist young pheasant they will make a repeated high-pitched squeak sound whilst he has a brief way with her. Another noise that I have encountered with them is when I was on my way to harvest some hazel for a project, and I noticed a hen pheasant sitting in the long grass. I did not take much notice of the hen and proceeded towards the hazel when the hen reared up and formed a mantle with her wings and started to hiss threatening towards me, first, it took me by surprise as I have never encountered this before in a hen pheasant, as usual, they scamper away as you get to close to them, but as I look closer under the mantle of her wings there were her baby chicks that she was guarding. I must admit I did stop to take a short video clip of this on the phone as I have never seen this behavior before, but that video is now sadly lost. Then I turned around and went elsewhere to source the hazel for my project and left her with her chicks.

Pheasant egg
Pheasant egg

Pheasants are usually reared as game birds and are likely to be bought from a game dealer as eggs, day-old chicks, or as young birds called Poults and reared in rearing pens by the gamekeepers to about July or early August and then taken to the designated release pen on the game shoot, where they can remain from a couple of days to up to six weeks before being allowed to roam freely between their pen and the surrounding area, but the game keepers will still carry on providing them with food and water., so these birds are really not a wild bird, as they are reared by humans.

In the wild male pheasant will display a wing fluttering display to attract females with Cor-Kuk calls and will typically have at least several hens as a harem to which to breed with. I’m not sure if this is the actual breeding ritual or just younger cock birds taking their chances with the females before the dominant cock bird chases them off. The Cock bird chases the hen, then pins her down using his beak to force her head down, and then starts a very quick brief intercourse with the hen whilst she makes a series of high-pitched squeaks.

Their breeding season usually occurs around March to June and after the Cock Pheasant has mated with the hen the Cock will have nothing more to do with the hen or with rearing the young chicks.

The hen Pheasant tends to find hidden places to create her nest, the preferred locations are tall grass, hedgerows, and tree edge lines. Their nest is a rudimentary affair often using a natural depression or hollow in the ground either unlined or sparsely furnished by using grasses, leaves, weed stalks or their own breast feathers. Their nest bowls are usually about 7 inches in length and about 3 inches deep.

  • Eggs clutch size: 7 – 15 Eggs.
  • Number of broods: 1-2 Broods.
  • Egg length: 1.6 – 1.9 inches (4.1 4.9 cm)
  • Egg length 1.3 – 1.5 inches (3.3 – 3.8cm)
  • Incubation period: 23 – 28 Days.
  • Condition of hatchling chicks: Pheasant chicks hatch completely covered with down feathers, with their eyes open, they leave the nest immediately following their mother hen and start feeding themselves.
Muntjac and Pheasants
Muntjac and Pheasants
Bernard the pheasant
Bernard the pheasant

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