PHEASANTS : Phasianus Colchicus
Pheasants are common around West Dunbartonshire, found in open aeas with sufficient bushes and trees for cover such as farms and muirland. Yet the pheasants they we find here are not truly native, but introduced. It is thought that they originally came from eastern Europe. Its Latin name colchicus refers to what is today Georgia on the Black Sea although they are also found in Mongolia. They may have arrived here with the Romans as ornamental birds or for the table. The became common in Britain by the 10th century only to disappear by about 1700. In Scotland, as in the rest of Britain, large country estates were being developed and they were reintroduced around 1830. While certainly thought of as ornamental birds, they were popular dishes too. Their ease of breeding and their awkward flight made them easy targets for trigger-happy victorians soon started rearing them as game birds. With generations of being bred on estates and proximity to people, they have become almost docile and you may well encounter some that behave almost like chickens.
Today marks the start of the pheasant shooting season. Until the 1st February, when the open season officially ends, millions of pheasants will be released into the British countryside.
In West Dunbartonshire you most likely to come across those cocks with the dinstinctive white nexk ring and startling red face and wattle with a dark irridencent heads. The rest of the body is generally mottled brown and the hens are mottled brown all over.
This description is a generalisation. Shades and colours vary greatly.Almost without exceptions, what you will see running wild here are all of the same general species. There is an almost white one in the examples below. Almost black cocks have often been seen elsewhere in Scotland with one being seen for the first time on Carman Muir in October 2023. This variation is explained by captive breeding and hybridisation. While hunting such gorgeous creatures may be disdained by many, it nevertheless explains why we have them in the first place. They have been bred for sport and the pot. A proportion escape each season and live wild. And it explains why seem more at certain times of the year - when some are released and when some breed in the wild.
Except where a change of cock has been indicated, the pheasants in the photos below have been around for several year. In the wild they only live for one to two years. Perhaps because of the ready supply of treats such as fatballs and a fairly secure environment the local ones seem to be fairing well. Those in captivity have been recorded up to 27 years.
A pheasant cock with colours most familiar in West Dunbartonshire.
A close up of the red area around the eyes.
The contrast between cock and hen is striking.
While the cock looks very dramatic and conspicuous, the hens are coloured to match the undergrowth and can readily blend in.
Just a few of a large batch of chicks. About 9. A few reached maturity and are still around. This supposes that only some eggs hatched, perhaps being eaten by scavagers. A hen can lay up to an incredible 40 to 60 eggs. Once hatched the chicks still face many challenges.
All fluffed up in the snow and looking much larger. instant insulation.
This unually pale cock is simply a variation of the same species. It was also unusually confident and friendly around people, but was chased off with great commotion by the larger more common cock when it tried to be too familliar with his entourage of hens.
All the photos of pheasants here were taken at a home above Renton where they were attracted by regular feeding, mainly of fatballs. During March 2023, the cock with regular plumage shown in the first pictures disappeared. In the final days of March another cock arrived. He differed in that his white neck ring is hardly visible. In the picture below, you can also see that his "ear" tuft feathers are much more pronounced.
Here he is gaining confidence in his new pecking ground and asserting himself.
The new cock soon tried his luck with the ladies. This hen is lying low and facing him in a strong indication of rebuttal. Courtship can be a coarse affair. Body language is a key feature by both male and female. Spring had hardly started after all and she was not ready.
The humble pheasant that we think we know still hold some surprises. We have seen a hen sound asleep while standing up. And on another occasion we have seen two hens in an almost ritualistic display almost beak to beak presenting to each other. Each would dip their heads towards each other in repeated gestures. Quite why is unknown. It was almost as if they were trying to get a last morsal before the other, but after about 10 minutes simply decided that was enough. One in fact displayed its wings outstretched, its tail a little extended. This was probably simply a way of appearing larger and was not an immature male trying out his macho instincts. Young males of course do look much like the females, but at this size will already have the tell-tale signs of more striking colouring.
When feeding wild birds such as pheasants try to keep to suitable foods. Other birds such as carrion crows, magpies, black birds and robins will join in. It can get quite frenetic and competitive out there. One one point these pheasants were rarely seen with all their tail feathers as the crows were pulling them to get at the fatballs first.
BIRDSPOT : https://www.birdspot.co.uk/a-little-bird/history/the-history-of-the-pheasant-in-britain#:~:text=There%20are%20about%2030%20subspecies%20of%20Phasianus%20colchicus.,almost%20black%20due%20to%20captive%20breeding%20and%20hybridisation.
GALLOWAY WILD FOODS website : https://gallowaywildfoods.com/december-pheasants/#:~:text=The%20pheasants%20we%20encounter%20in%20Scotland%20%28%20Phasianus,around%201830%20as%20ornamentation%20for%20wealthy%20country%20estates.
GARDEN BIRDS website : https://www.garden-birds.co.uk/birds/pheasant.html#:~:text=Male%20Pheasants%20are%20unmistakable%20with%20their%20iridescent%20copper-coloured,glossed%20purple.%20Their%20face%20and%20wattle%20are%20red.
RIVERGREEN : Hunting seasons. https://www.river-green.com/shooting-hunting/shooting-seasons/
WIKIPEDIA : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_pheasant