December 4th   Leave a comment

Pheasants were brought to my attention this morning when a neighbour brought round a road kill bird for identification. It was a female pheasant that must have been hit by a car and then died close to the side of the road. Apart from being dead, it was in good condition and if I was so inclined I could have plucked and eaten it without any problem after lying overnight in the equivalent of a fridge. Even if I wasn’t a vegetarian I would be off road kill after spending a summer sharing a house with a road kill enthusiast. The smell of several days’ old hare slow cooking on the top of a stove all day would test the resolve of most carnivores.

An understated female pheasant

I have been noticing a lot of road kill pheasants in the last couple of weeks. They must be on the move, looking for good foraging areas further afield as the colder weather reduces their local options. Striding between fields rather than flying makes them an easy target. And when pheasants do fly they tend to do it quite low also making them a target. There seems also to be another peak in pheasant road kill at the end of the winter when the males start looking for females. The carnage on the roads makes you start to do some mental maths to convert the number of kills to a density per kilometre, and then to multiply this up to the huge length of roads we have in the UK. You soon end up with an unfeasibly large number where millions of pheasants are being squashed per year. It is certainly true a lot get squashed (but then tens of thousands get released for shooting each year…but that is another story), but you can’t do this kind of back of the envelope calculation. For a start you only begin this exercise when you see a few road kills and we travel inevitably on the busiest roads most of the time. So the initial number is inflated, and when you multiply this up the error gets inflated much, much more.

And another thing about pheasants. Have you noticed how if you see a group in the fields at the moment they are either all males or all females? They are in groups because of safety in numbers, but the females don’t join the male groups because the males are so conspicuous. There is no hiding a male pheasant’s gilded plumage and they are beacons to buzzards and, where they occur, goshawks. A female, even in a group can flatten itself down in a field and disappear with its mottled pale brown plumage. This is essential when they are sitting on nests in the spring. Males just have to hope for the best. They are massively handicapped in terms of anti predation, but then again one that survives the winter and that still has that flashy plumage in the spring must have a good set of genes. Males play the male game where conspicuousness in the long run is a good thing.

Mr conspicuous – a male pheasant

Posted December 4, 2017 by wildcrail in Sightings

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