Friday, 22 October 2021

Pleasant sight of pheasant

WHEREVER you walk there are pheasants, calling “KU-tuk, KU-tuk” and flapping off into the undergrowth.

They are in eclipse still, the females pale brown with scrappy tails, the males not yet in their breeding plummage of glossy green or bluish-black head with bright red side wattles, with or without a white neck ring, which developes in winter as their hormone levels rise.

Those with a white collar belong to the torquatus group and the others are phasianus colchicus.

However, pheasants of various races have interbred as the species was introduced from its native habitat east of the Black Sea and in China, arriving in Britain with the Romans or possibly the Normans.

Totally dark blue or white morphs also occur, as in the captive and feral herds of fallow deer which produce almost black or white strains. They, too, were introduced as essential food (game) at the time.

Pheasants of both sexes grow tails as long as their bodies, designed for display rather than flight as all galliformes (gamebirds) have a range of only a few hundred metres.

Some are truly wild but many round here are raised in large pens in secluded woods and have now been released near feeding stations, those blue barrels or old oil drums full of grain which you see on the margins of copses.

The birds will gradually disperse and learn to fear the humans which have been their source of food, flying up suddenly from the undergrowth with cries to startle us.

Our attractive landscape of mixed woodland and fields has been shaped by the shooting industry.

Until about 10 years ago there were no pheasants in the Highlands but as the climate has warmed and the grouse grown scarcer due to tick infestation, they were introduced to enhance the sport and now nest in deep heather and under bushes in the wild and in village gardens, providing food for the wild and feral cats, two more races which are happily interbreeding.

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