Pheasants can be fun for stories. So… once upon a time, there was a cock pheasant. And “once upon a time” is not in the past. He’s still around.
He lives in my garden. Most of the time, that is. Sometimes, he goes on a foray next door, in hopes of convincing the neighbours that no one feeds him — no one ever! — and he is a poor, starved creature. It works, too, according to the neighbours.
He is a handsome bird with shimmering gold and rust-brown feathers, a very long elegant tail and a wide white ruff round his neck. (Louise Allen, friend of Libertà, tells us that the bigger the white neck-ruff, the more testosterone in the, ahem, cock.)
This cock pheasant certainly fancies himself. He thinks he owns all he surveys. King of the World, in fact. And he tries to see off any other cock pheasant who dares to set foot on his patch. He barks — a sound like a strangulated cock crow — and rouses his feathers to show his importance and warn off rivals. He is a large chap with a small head and an even smaller, pea-sized brain. If he were human, I’d say he was “all mouth and (no) trousers”.
I’ve named him Boris.
What are pheasants for?
Boris sees his role in life as feeding, fighting and fornication. The more, the better, of all three. Boris is definitely not monogamous. He likes to spread himself about a lot.
Others might say that pheasants are there to be shot and eaten. But as long as he stays in my garden, Boris is safe enough from shotguns. He needn’t fly. He can stick to his main FFF roles.
He hasn’t done much real fighting this year. I know that, because he still has his tail. When cock pheasants really fight, they use their claws against each other, rearing up in order to get a claw into the opponent. Most of the time, they’re rearing up on their tails which often get broken in the process. He did that last year. This year, Boris still has all his tail feathers so it appears that barking at opponents has been enough. For now. We’ll see if it lasts the season. (This image isn’t of Boris. I’ve never yet managed to photograph his fights.)
Last year, he managed to attract the attention of a single hen. She even nested. I don’t know how many eggs she laid but she did appear, in early summer, followed by a single chick. She only brought it once, mind. So we have no idea whether Boris’s progeny made it to adulthood or was carried off by one of the local foxes.
Boris and his harem of females
This year, Boris has increased his harem by 100% or possibly 200%. He normally appears with two hen pheasants in tow — I’ve named them Doris and Floris — and they seem to get on well. Doris and Floris pay absolutely no attention at all to Boris’s show-off antics. Both look thoroughly bored. Sometimes, they nod off.
He doesn’t merely do the rouse and bark bit, he also attacks his own reflection in the patio doors. All the time. And no amount of bashing his beak has yet taught him that the phantom opponent is not actually there. Pea-brained, indeed.
Boris is definitely a leg-over merchant, too. That third F is uppermost in his pea brain at this time of year. If Doris or Floris gives him half a chance, he’s in like Flynn. And he doesn’t care who sees, either. I have viewed a lot of copulation from my sitting room window, I’m afraid.
The hens seem to have more brains. They are interested in the food we might have on offer and usually hang around after feeding is over, in hopes there will be seconds or even thirds. Apart from ignoring Boris, they spend their time standing on one leg, with a bit of preening in between. After all, a gal has to take care of her looks, doesn’t she? Because someone better than Boris might come along…
A harem isn’t for everyone
The “possibly 200%” is a third hen — nicknamed Flighty — because she won’t be bossed about by Boris and won’t simply join Doris and Floris in the harem. Flighty does her own thing. Sometimes she comes for food with them; sometimes she comes on her own.
On one occasion, while the others were being fed, Flighty appeared at the top of the bank. Boris actually stopped eating and galloped off up the bank to shepherd her down to join his harem. She went along with it, but only because there was easy food on offer.
Once that was eaten, she was off again. Boris didn’t follow. Because (I paraphrase an old saying, though Boris might disagree?) two biddable hens in the hand are better than one stroppy hen in the distant bush.
Pets without stress
Boris and his ladies have become pets, sort of. But they’re still wild. And if they stop coming for food, that’s their choice. They’ve been easy to tame — they eat a lot — which may be because they were hand-reared for one of the local shoots. No way of knowing.
Doris, the smallest hen, is the tamest. When I was taking pics for this blog, I opened the bedroom window as far as it would go. When she saw me, she decided I was probably going to provide food so she actually flew up to my window and tried to land on the ledge. Sadly, I had no food up there, so she left again. But she happily takes food from the hand and she has come into the house more than once. I just hope she doesn’t get too near a human with a gun.
Just to prove they are hand tame, there’s a video above of them eating out of the hand. Sadly, Flighty wasn’t there that day. Normally, Boris muscles in and insists on getting first dibs but, on this occasion, Doris managed to sneak in ahead of him. Possibly she’s been learning stroppiness from Flighty?
And yes, we are a soft touch. Wouldn’t you be? Even for a cock named Boris?
Enjoy the Easter weekend holiday, with or without tame birds in your garden.