Wednesday 26 May 2010

The Case of the Disappearing Pheasants

For several years now we’ve seen pheasant chicks in the garden, scurrying after their mother through the grass. We’ve assumed the nest was in the garden but have never searched for it as we didn’t want to disturb the birds. This year though my partner noticed a clutch of eggs in some low shrubs right next to the path to the front door. As we’d both been away for a fortnight we wondered if the birds had become used to an absence of humans and so chosen this spot for the nest. However the shrubs had been badly damaged by rabbits during the heavy snow of last winter and there were few leaves. In previous years the pheasants could have nested there and we might never have noticed. As it was we were impressed at how well camouflaged the female was when sitting on the eggs. To avoid frightening the birds away we hurried past this spot whenever we went out. When there the female always sat tight and never showed any sign of movement. Rain and wind had no effect either. One day it snowed and she sat there with snow spattering her plumage. The male meanwhile strutted round the garden, inflating his plumage to make himself look bigger, and chasing off any other male pheasants that came near.

Then several days ago Denise noticed pheasant feathers strewn along the path. She traced them back to the nest, where many lay around the eggs. There was no sign of the pheasants. At this point we hoped something had scared them off briefly and they would return. But they didn’t reappear that day. Or the next. Or the one after that. Then a different male appeared in the garden and started feeding from a seed tray not far from the nest. There was no fight, no sudden crash of wings as “our” male launched himself at the intruder. The nesting pheasants had gone. Now the eggs are cold. Clearly something attacked the female pheasant. Maybe a fox, maybe one of the stoats we see regularly in the garden. There was no blood amongst the feathers and the eggs weren’t touched so maybe the pheasants saw off the predator but were so frightened that they abandoned the nest. Whatever the reason we probably won’t see pheasant chicks in the garden this year.

(If you’re wondering about the title to this post, well, Sherlock Holmes stories have been my bedtime reading recently!)

Photo info: The abandoned pheasants’ eggs. Canon EOS 450D, Canon 18-55 IS at 55mm, 1/25@f22, ISO 400, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.7.


  1. Chris, is there any chance it could have been a buzzard attack? Although they're not particularly mobile, as raptors go, they will sometimes take the opportunity if they catch another bird 'napping'.

    I know an adult pheasant is a big item of prey even for a female buzzard, but I've seen a male sparrowhawk, not much bigger than a good sized blackbird, collect a pretty hefty pigeon off our bird table and haul it away. The pigeon was 'distracted' at the time.


  2. There are plenty of buzzards round here but I doubt one would take a pheasant. A buzzard couldn't have easily got through the vegetation to the sitting hen. Buzzards do take rabbits and pheasants kiled by vehicles.

  3. My parents enjoying watching the birds nesting in their garden. This year a robin was feeding chicks in a nest right next to their front door, until a neighbours cat destroyed the nest.
    My father went out the next day and bought a super-dooper, high powered water gun/rifle/thing that fires a good distance. Any cat that comes in his garden now gets a rapid soaking! Victor Meldrew eat your heart out! :)
    Mike fae Dundee