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I call them my Pheasants, but of course they don’t belong to me. In reality they have taken over me and my garden. In the Springtime I could often look out of my kitchen window and see anything up to twenty hen pheasants soaking up the morning sun on my garden fence. They were attracted by the bird feeders which I attempt to keep stocked with peanuts, seed, fatballs and bread. I wonder if any other nation feeds birds as we do. I always say that we fatten birds so that people in southern climes can shoot or trap them and eat them. I can perhaps understand that if their need is great but I cannot condone shooting them for so called sport. In the islands of Cyprus and Malta these sportsmen wait in their droves to shoot exhausted migrant birds as they home into the first land they see as they cross the Med. They even dress up elaborately for the occasion. Every year, for years now, I have signed a letter to the PM of Malta urging him to ban this barbaric practice, which is illegal under EU law. I believe they, the hunters of Malta, voted in a referendum to continue the practice and won. Now I suppose the Editor will refuse to publish this, just as the Editor of the Sidmouth Herald refused my letter about Halal Slaughter. (Editor: actually, I have been wondering what’s happened to all the militant animal rights activists – they seem to have gone very quiet!)
Yet of course my pheasants cannot actually reach the feeders. In the midst of summer I have three hens and one very protective cock pheasant who visit every day. In fact they live here. The girls sleep in conifers at the Southern end while the boss sleeps high in the ash tree on the East. There was a period when they all overnighted in the ash, but the goings-on were such that the girls decided to sleep elsewhere. So it is that every morning his lordship is seen hanging about on the lawn, trying to look as if he just happens to be there like some lovesick teenager passing a school just as his girlfriend comes out. Then they spend most of the day waiting under the feeders for any crumbs which drop their way. All the time he stands aloof while his girls keep their distance and no wonder, because his intermittent attempts at mating consist of running after his intended and leaping on her back. It is a good job we don’t carry on like that as I can imagine some very nasty injuries. What if you missed? Then every night he escorts his harem to their bed in the conifers and then trudges back to his lonely bed high in the ash tree.
My outstanding memory of Exotic Pheasants was when Mrs Brown of Brownlands in Sid Road, very rich and a bird fancier, decided she wanted her large flock of Golden Pheasants to have their wings clipped. Of course I got the job. Beautiful birds, but hyperactive. It soon became obvious that I would need help to hold each bird. Mrs Brown refused to have anything to do with it, so I decided I would have to take them, all 36, back to the surgery. Mrs. Brown found some large but ancient wicker crates and I stuffed them in, each one a mini battle, and set off in haste. Before I had reached the Radway, they had burst out and I arrived at the surgery in Temple Street with birds and feathers all over the car and me; one was even perched atop my head.
I reckon the average life of a wild pheasant to be about 18 months to 3 years, so that any great characters in my garden only really have a short stay. One day a hen pheasant came to the feeding station and we noticed a tiny brown chick which kept darting out from under it’s mother to peck at a morsel and then even more swiftly running back for cover. It was small, that must have been it’s first foray out into the world. We called it Henry, but as it developed we had to revise that to Henrietta, and from then it visited us every day of it’s allotted span. We always knew which one was Henrietta because when we approached all the others ran away, but she ran eagerly towards us.
Another great character was a magnificent cock pheasant who decided I was a reliable meal ticket. Every morning he would follow me up to the greenhouse where I kept the peanuts. Fearless, he would wait for me to throw him peanuts and even came to take them from my hand and he was so accurate that, despite his excitement, he never once pecked me. All the time he followed me, he emitted a low ticking sound like a well tuned motorbike ticking over; but when I gave him peanuts he moved up a gear, his clicking doubling in rate and volume. His obvious enjoyment was such a joy to watch. Then, sometime in his third year, he was no longer there.