Peak District Birds - Pheasants
One of the most stunningly beautiful birds in the Peak District has to be the male pheasant. It's very easy to forget how lovely these birds are because they seem to be almost everywhere and quite a common sight. They're certainly not the cleverest of our bird population. It does sometimes seem that pheasants have a death wish. When it comes to tootling along country lanes in your car beware, it's not uncommon to encounter a silly pheasant hurtling headfirst towards your bumper. They are quite slow to take off in flight as well, but once they do actually get off the ground, they are a very impressive sight.
As a very large, long tailed game bird, the pheasant has very different markings between the male and female of the species. Males certainly have been blessed with the bird paint brush, having rich chestnut, golden brown and black markings on their body, a long delicate tail and with their dark green iridescent head and red-faced feathers; they are spectacular, especially if the sun is shining directly on to their neck plumage. The females are much more demur and not as showy, with mottled paler brown and black plumage. Males are usually larger than females and have much longer tails; they also play no part in rearing the young.
In Europe the pheasant is now naturalised and is simply known as the 'Common Pheasant 'or 'Ring Necked Pheasant', the word 'Pheasant' actually comes from the ancient town of Phasis in Western Georgia. It's a very popular game bird and has regional importance to the Peak District as being one of the world's most hunted birds. It has been introduced for that purpose in many regions, and is also common on game farms where it is commercially bred. They are considered semi-domesticated, which is totally believable if you encounter a pheasant whilst out walking.
In some parts of Derbyshire it's common to see black or green pheasants. They're entirely the same iridescent colour as the neck of a Common Pheasant due to pigmentation in their captive breeding. Males have shorter tails on average and have a darker plumage which is uniformly bottle green on the breast and belly. They also lack a white neck ring like the Common pheasant. The female green pheasant is darker, with many black dots on the breast and belly. There are other colour mutations encountered in the countryside and even a pure white, extremely rare pheasant, has been captured on camera recently by one of the Peak District online team.
( A very rare Albino Pheasant - seen near chatsworth house - they are rare for the simple reasons of being easily spotted by prey , and also hearing impairments , both of which dont help survival chances sadly... )
They can be seen across most of the UK, apart from the West of Scotland. They're very common in the Peak District moors and open farmland and are usually seen in open countryside near woodland edges, hedgerows and copses. They don't favour urban areas, but have been known to be seen wandering about, looking for directions, in our villages. They can also be seen all year round.
Pheasants like to eat seeds, grain and shoots and the RSPB estimates there are between 1.8 to 1.9 million birds in this country. They're actually part of the partridge and quail family.
Pheasants were hunted by Stone Age humans, just like grouse and partridges, and it's thought that even peacocks inhabited Europe at that time looking very similar. Since the Roman Empire the pheasant has been extensively introduced in many places and were naturalised in Great Britain around the 10th century A.D. Around 13 million pheasants are released each year on shooting estates. Although most released birds survive less than a year in the wild, The Game And Wildlife Conservation Trust is researching the breeding success of pheasants and are trying to find ways to improve the breeding to reduce the demand for reared pheasants and increase the wild population.
Common Pheasants are bred to be shot in great numbers especially the UK where they are shot on the traditional formal 'driven shoots'. The open season in the UK is 1st October to 1 February and it's quite common to hear the haunting sound of guns, echoing across the Peak District valleys during this time.
Whatever your feelings are for pheasants, whether beautiful or batty, these stunning game birds can be seen in abundance. While you're staying up here or living amongst them in the Peak District, they add colour and movement amongst the barren winter moors, and contrast against the famous Derbyshire heather and we're glad they live among us.
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