Nature Notes: Strange incident of the pheasant gang of women

Richard Williamson
Richard Williamson

I take back nearly everything I said about Cock Charley and his many wives. He is the pheasant I have tamed to feed from my hand, who when entered the house when we weren’t looking to find food, and then tried to fly out through the TV set which he thought was a window, when my wife returned.

I also called all of his eight wives inbred, infertile mules who did not know what laying a proper egg was, let alone rearing young after sitting still on a nest for two weeks.

I did find one or two of their eggs scattered around the lawn. They were no good because they did not have shells and felt like lumps of soft rubber.

However, something very strange then happened about which I have questioned gamekeepers all of whom said “tut-tut, that’s very peculiar. Mind you, hen pheasants are sometimes a bit weird”.

It was well into July. The hen pheasants behaved still as if they had no idea what a breeding season was, though Charley strutted up and down all the time and trod the daily, while they just carried on eating corn.

Then suddenly one of the eight wives took to arriving late at the feeding time, dropped enormous droppings, squeaked at me a few inches from my feet and was obviously in a state of incubation.

When I mimicked her peculiar squeak, she fluffed out all her feather and started to preen rapidly, obviously in a state of high pleasure.

I was talking to her in her own language even though she had not a clue what I was actually saying.

This went on for a week. Then one afternoon my wife called to me in some excitement to bring my camera quickly.

I took the picture you can see here. This hen had hatched nine chicks and for just a few minutes she and her new family enjoyed being together in the garden.

Late that afternoon we heard scuffles in the undergrowth, and whirring noises as when cocks fight in spring.

The hen then appeared with no chicks at all the next morning. Neither did she talk to me in squeaky language. The other hens ignored her. What had happened to the youngsters?

My wife said the other hens had killed them. Nonsense said I, they wouldn’t do that would they? They were jealous, said my wife.

They had, it seemed, formed a gang of non breeders. The next day they attacked the mother pheasant, behaving just like cocks when they fight, spreading tails wide, lowering wings, growling and weaving their heads this way and that.

She, the only good bird among them all, was an outcast.

When I clambered into the undergrowth, sure enough, there were the bodies of all the youngsters, hacked to death by the jealous old gang of spinsters.