Spring is definitely in the air and the sap is beginning to rise, and I'm not thinking of our plant kingdom when I say that.
Testosterone drives many a sane bird to distraction at this time of year, though the pheasant can hardly be described as sane at the best of times!
Since the pheasant is now such a common and familiar British bird, we could be forgiven for thinking it is a native species but the truth of the matter is that this rather large and colourful bird is more at home in the hot and steamy forests of south east Asia than in the gardens and countryside of temperate Britain.
The pheasant was introduced to Britain in Norman times for hunting since when it has been continually boosted by breeding and regular releases.
For those that doubt the pheasant’s insanity let me recount a tail of complete lunacy which hit the television news in the south west some time ago. Before I begin, I should point out that the male pheasant sports a lovely big red wattle, the fleshy skin which hangs from its face, this wattle gets bigger and redder as the male reaches a sexual peak. The red of an intruder’s wattle can spark off more than a little aggression from a resident male and fights can ensue.
As we all know, postmen have to drive red vans and one particular postman in Devon had to drive his red van into the territory of a hot-blooded male pheasant. Something inside this poor bird was telling it that the post van was a challenger so every morning a fight broke out between the pheasant and the van.
So why should the pheasant need to be so aggressive? The pheasant isn’t like most British birds, it doesn’t pair for life nor does it even manage a year of fidelity, the male pheasant actually keeps a harem of females. The bigger, noisier and more impressive the male the larger his harem will be.
In order to keep his harem in order the male pheasant has the most outlandish display. Positioned close to his females he stands tall, throws his head back in the air and flaps his wings vigorously whilst making the loudest noise he can muster.
The females in his care may pause from feeding for a moment, probably to wonder what on earth he is doing by drawing such attention to himself, but the main focus of his efforts is to ward off any other males in the area.
Being a little inbred is probably the cause of a wide range of colour forms in the pheasant population; some birds are much darker than average, a condition known as melanism, others are lighter, known as leucism. Most males have a white ring around their neck, the feature which has led to this species being named the 'ring-necked' pheasant.
Whatever the colour form it is difficult to mistake a pheasant for anything else and watching pheasants in the spring can be most entertaining unless, that is, you own a red van!