17 February, 2010

Not just pretty feathers

Pheasants have a reputation as the himbos of the bird world. Handsome, brightly plumaged, not at the front of the queue when the brains were handed out. They make assiduous efforts to live up to this image by leaping out of hedges into the path of cars and bicycles, or exploding from cover under the feet of unsuspecting walkers and flapping panickily away over open fields at just the right height to make a perfect target for a shotgun.

One of the local pheasants has taken to regularly ambling round some of the nearby gardens, presumably having figured out that (a) there's food in gardens and (b) he's not likely to be shot with anything other than a camera. Not surprisingly, he became almost resident during the snow and cold weather this winter.

Normally he wanders about on the lawn, pheasants being heavy birds and generally reluctant to fly (except when they can give an unsuspecting walker a shock, see above). After about a week of watching the other birds feeding on the bird table and eating the seeds they dropped, our resident pheasant worked out that there was food up there.

From his precarious perch, we could see him contemplating the assorted blue-tits and finches feeding on the fat ball hanging below the bird table. After a couple of days, he evidently worked out that it was edible and started peering over the edge trying (unsuccessfully) to reach it. A couple more days, and he started pecking at the string. The day after that, he managed to lift the string off the hook and drop the fat ball to the ground, whereupon he flapped down and started tucking in. I didn't get a picture of him doing this, so you'll have to take my word for it. I wonder if this Einstein of the pheasant world will remember his new skills next winter?

He may not need them for much longer this season, as winter is gradually loosening its grip and giving ground to spring (touch wood). The hazel catkins are out:

and the snowdrops are in bloom, about a fortnight later than last year and all the more welcome:


nanina said...

This is lovely. I was one of those who thought it was on account of the pheasant the the term 'feather-head' came into existence! I consider myself informed to the contrary. One of these days, when 18 more inches of snow melt, I might spy a few clumps of snowdrops in my garden. Until then I'll enjoy yours. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

That is pretty advanced for a pheasant! They are, I think, the only bird it might be possible to hunt and kill armed only with a bicycle.

Carla said...

Hello Nanina, and welcome! Well, it did take him at least a week to figure it out, which is not exactly fast :-)

Tenthmedieval - is that from personal experience? :-)

Meghan said...

Wonderful pictures! Such a pretty bird. I enjoyed this post a lot.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Still no snowdrops here.

Heh, one of them did the Scare Unsuspecting Hikers trick on me once. Too bad I didn't have a gun. ;)

Nicola Griffith said...

Nice post. Makes me miss England, again.

A pheasant very nearly gave me a heart-attack on the cliffs near Whitby a few years ago--it just exploded out of the gorse as a scrambled up a narrow path. I'd just got over that when I got surprised by...a goat. No idea where it came from (or where it went) but that day probably took six months off my life.

Anonymous said...

Carla: very nearly! The pheasant Green Cross Code is still in draft, it would seem.

Carla said...

Meghan - Glad you liked it! Pheasants are very handsome birds.

Gabriele - the snowdrops are at least a fortnight later than usual here, maybe the same applies in Germany? Why pheasants panic just after you've passed them by is beyond me :-)

Nicola - That must have been a scary experience! Especially on the paths on the Yorkshire coast, with the crumbly cliffs and a big drop...

Tenthmedieval - Only nearly? There's good eating on a pheasant, you know :-)

Gabriele Campbell said...

Why pheasants panic just _after_ you've passed them by is beyond me :-)

It takes their brain that long to decide they should be scared. :P

Doug said...

But did the pheasant need a week just to realise that other birds eating showed that there was food up there, or was it to some extent a need to gather the will to get its weight up there? There must be a reason they don't fly much, maybe it exhausts them. However, Gabriele C's suggestion does support a considerable degree of stupidity! How do they manage to survive?

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

loved the post Carla.
Agree with everyone else re pheasants mostly being numbskulls. Yours must be a genius of the species! One of the other things they do is give their loud 'gurk-lurk' calls alerting you to the fact that they're actually in a certain thicket, whereas if they'd keep their beaks shut, you'd never know they were there!

Carla said...

Gabriele - Good point :-)

Doug - Good question. Alas, I can't tell you what was going on the pheasant's mind :-) He's taken to flapping up to the bird table regularly now, even though there isn't always much food up there (I put extra out during the snow), and then sitting on the edge of the table looking miffed. So evidently flying up there isn't too much of a problem, though pheasants look such ungainly birds that they surely can't fly very easily. A bit of both, perhaps, first working out that there was food and then deciding if it was worth the effort to get it.

I suspect they survive in the numbers they do nowadays because gamekeepers feed them. A few years ago we had a pheasant (possibly the ancestor of this one) that was evidently so used to being fed by people that if we went out in the garden it would run towards us, for all the world like a free-range chicken.

Elizabeth - glad you enjoyed it. I suppose that could be altruism - sounding an alarm call to give warning to the rest of the flock at some risk to itself - but I wouldn't count on it :-)