Sunday 8 February 2015

Some funny looking pheasants

We have numerous gamebirds in the valley, Partridge, both Grey (perdix perdix) perdrix grise  and Redlegged (alectoris rufa) perdrix rouge,and Common Pheasant (phasianus colchicus) faisan de colchide. In summer we hear Quail calling from the field just across the road and from our meadow, often heard but seldom seen. Last year was a particularly good year for them.

The population of these species has regularly been augmented by the release of cage-reared birds (d'élévage). Such introductions have contributed to the variations in colour to be seen in the pheasant population.

Here's Jeremy - last year's king of the hill

And here's the new kid in town

At the end of January a most unusual individual visited us - a female pheasant, as could be seen by comparison with the other females with her.
She is almost black - actually a very dark blue-green - with a blue tail and silver primaries. She seemed rather more shy than her companions, who crowded down to the area under the feeders in gaggles. There were ten female pheasants feeding together at one point. She only just came within the distance my Fuji SL1000 can manage and nowhere near the feeders.

Hold your head up, gel. That's a bit better.

We identified her as a melanistic Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus mut. tenebrosus), as much from the company she keeps as from the colour. She is a mutant, or a throwback to an ancestral hybrid. We have not seen her again.

Struggling for a closeup

Meanwhile on 5th February, this male individual was spotted in a garden in Pont de Ruan and recorded for posterity on Faune Touraine.

Copyright Jean-Claude Domenger, avec nos remerciements à Philippe Diard, Faune Touraine

This individual was logged as a green pheasant (phasianus versicolor), faisan versicolor, a Japanese species and as such a collection escapee, but in our opinion he's more likely to be a melanistic common pheasant too, or a hybrid. His back and rump are blue when they should be olive-grey, and he lacks the beautifully patterned feathers draped around his shoulders like a stole.

Interesting that they should both turn up within the same week.

Ours is most definitely not a female Green Pheasant as they look almost exactly like a female common pheasant. Green and Common pheasants can interbreed and have escaped from aviaries, so he may be a throwback to an ancestral Green.
UPDATE: these melanistic common pheasants are known in the North of England as Blue Pheasants, and in Norfolk, confusingly, as Green Pheasants.

And this is a beautiful Green pheasant from Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium,
 Creative Commons's Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license
Melanistic birds like these are often used by gamekeepers as markers, because they are so visible. Groups of female pheasants stay together outside the breeding season (in other words inside the hunting season) and if he can see the black one, he knows where his birds are.

The statistics for these releases is astonishing: according to a study in 2008 on behalf of the Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (ONCFS) a total of ten million are released annually across France. Despite the releases, the ONCFS found that the number of pheasants in France is decreasing.

The ONCFS studies highlighted the patently obvious: that the ability of cage-bred pheasants to adapt to life in the field is poor and becoming poorer.
In order to provide that volume, breeders have a very small gene pool to dip into. The birds are in-bred. Not intellectually gifted to start with, pheasants are getting increasingly stupid. I can vouch for that: I once had to brake to a standstill on a road in North Yorkshire that was blocked by escaped young pheasants milling around unable to decide what to do. They are dismissed by French shooters as 'faisans de tir', and by anglophone hunters as "no fun to shoot any more". I will leave to the imagination the sort of hunter that shoots them.

The ONCFS has put in place a plan that will develop a stock of pheasants by natural population growth.

This includes
  • a three year moratorium on the shooting of naturally - reared pheasants
  • a ban in certain places on the release of pheasants
  • released birds to wear wing-rings or "ponchos" indicating that they may be hunted. 
  • certain communes have a "plan de chasse faisan". These apply different combinations of the three different actions above. Our commune is not one of them, so release and shooting go on as normal here.
A local bird wearing a yellow "poncho" turned up three years ago at Braye-sous-Faye.
Colin & Elizabeth blogged about it here.
Pheasant with a poncho, plus pheasant-wrangler's thumb.
From Ducatillon sales brochure, according to whom this is a female.
According to anyone else, this is a male.
Not just the birds then.

Every release, be it a spring release of young adults or a summer release of juveniles, is to be followed up with a population study to see how it pans out.

You can find the website of the Fédération de la Chasse de L'Indre-et-Loire here, and their page on pheasants here.


Colin and Elizabeth said...

Interesting... We blogged about a ponchos pheasent back in Nov 2011...

Will that be the same thing?? We thought at the time is was a DON'T shoot me tag!! Col

Tim said...

It's the wild (wild-ish) ones they want to protect. If it was "poncho = don't shoot" you'd have to catch all the wild ones and put ponchos on them. Pauline

Afrenchgarden said...

Such beautiful birds but their stupidity has always annoyed me, I had never thought it could be due to inbreeding. Amelia