I’ve always had a lot of birds in my garden. I’ve always had a pleasant view from the kitchen window, across a wooded valley to a quaintly derelict farmhouse. Then the quaintly derelict farmhouse was bought and the new owner set up a pheasant shoot. Come the autumn, local farmers gather to take pot-shots at the pheasants, and for some reason some of them (the pheasants, not the farmers) have decided to move across the valley and take up residence in my garden. It could be something to do with us not taking pot-shots at them.
They are certainly a colourful addition to the garden, one step down on having peacocks, and slightly, but only slightly, less irritating in their squawking. Two families have settled in permanently. Cocky the Cock, and four ladies, Henny, Penny, Chicky and Licky, have taken possession of the front garden. Scaredy-cat Fezzy, along with Sali, Mali, Milly, Molly and Mandy own the back garden. There is no escaping them and I have become quite an expert on pheasant behaviour and more especially on pheasant misbehaviour.
It goes without saying that most of the misbehaviour comes from the gaudy males, who never shut up, go for each other like Prime Minister’s Question Time on steroids, if there’s a question of claiming females or bird feeders, and who pursue the females like the charge of the Light Brigade, bushes, flowers and beanpoles laid waste in the process. The females, far more elegantly subdued in their plumage, misbehave by having dust baths wherever I am stupid enough to plant any beans, leeks or lettuces. They regard the males as a necessary evil if chicks are to be had, but otherwise an irritating distraction from the serious matter of eating. They eat non-stop.
I am not sure how much comes naturally to a lady pheasant who was hatched in an incubator. Some of the females have not entirely mastered the essentials. One of the Front Garden ladies decide to lay a clutch of 13 eggs in my sweet pea planter, and though I carefully avoided touching it, she forgot all about them. After two months I gave in and distributed them along the lane. I wanted my planter back.
Others were more responsible. I could tell that because a few weeks ago most of the ladies disappeared into the undergrowth (I have plenty) and didn’t come back. Not for a while at least. Eventually, Sali reappeared at the feeder. Very wary with a couple of chicks. The next day, she had ten with her. If the others manage the same, we will not be able to open the doors. As it is, we can’t risk leaving them open for more than thirty seconds, without having a kitchen full of pheasants. If they don’t take care, that is where some of them are going to finish up.