Bird's Eye View of Bute

The Pheasant

(1) Origonal
(1) Origonal
(2) Cock Pheasant
(2) Cock Pheasant
(3) Male Pheasant
(3) Male Pheasant
(4) Cock Pheasant
(4) Cock Pheasant
(5) White
(5) White

 

 

The Pheasant

As you wander around Bute you will see many Pheasants. Some in the fields, some at the roadside and some that decide to go to the other side of the road just as you are passing in your car, making you brake sharply, and in some cases to take avoiding action which can cause you all sorts of problems.

It is not just pheasants that do this. Hares, rabbits, roe deer and other birds do what has for many year has

 been called the "Chicken Run". It must have been the farmyard chickens that started the craze, and the rest may have copied them. Most make it across, but you will see a great deal that don't.
Back to the pheasant's. They originated from south west Asia as a game bird, and can be found all over Britain and is absent only from the highest and bleakest parts so, as there are up to 500,000 pairs they have coped with our climate very well.
In my younger days it was the job of the gamekeepers to breed these birds, and wire cages could be seen all over Bute with chicks at various stages of age in them. They were hand fed so they were very used to humans, more so to the hand that fed them. One story that I loved was the one that was told to me by a gamekeeper’s wife.
The cages full of chicks were beside their cottage. She had reared them and now the time had come to release them as a group of shooters were coming in a few days’ time and they were hoping for a good bag. Well the chicks were the right size for the pot so they were released. The day that the shooters arrived she went out and called for her chicks. Every one of them appeared out of the woods thinking that they were going to be fed. She hustled them into the cages and kept them there until the end of that day and released them before her gamekeeper husband arrived home.
The males are very colourful with their bodies having a red-bronze, barred above and below with black. The head is an iridescent dark bottle-green with a bold red eye-wattle. The red-bronze tail is elongated and barred black. The female is smaller, mottled and barred in shades of buff and brown with a shorter tail. Some males may have a white neck ring, some may not. Variations occur from time to time. A few years ago there were a few that were nearly all white. These do not last very long as they stick out like a sore thumb and have since disappeared.

Many years ago there were Golden Pheasants on Bute. They had bright red underparts, golden crown and rump and a long tail. I never saw one myself as they were very secretive and would hide in the dense stands of rhododendrons and conifer plantations and other dense woodlands. The females when incubating their eggs, will let you approach them without flying away if you see their nest in time and don't spook them. I have a good photo of one taken with a 28mm lens, which means that I have to get very close to get a decent photo. It did not budge and I was two feet away from it. It blended in with its background that well that it is no good showing you the photo of it as it is nearly invisible, that’s how good their camouflage is. Nowadays when you go round the island you may see grey containers with tripod legs that stand about one metre high. These hold the grain that the pheasants now feed off, and as most of them are very close to the road you will see a great deal of birds around them at most parts of our island.

Unfortunately , there were plenty of them brought from the mainland , and all of these birds were males, as a male pheasant is more desirable for the pot, although I do not think that there will be a great deal of difference to the flavour, they only look better. At breeding time the wild females get a lot of hassle from these males, and I have seen as many as ten cocks chasing a poor hen for a very long time all trying to mate with her. A very trying time for them. (Then again maybe not). They are lovely birds and give a good splash of colour to the country side, so the more that are bred and the less that are shot is a bonus for all that like to see them.

Norrie Mulholland

First Published in the Buteman 06-12-2002
 


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