Birds: Pheasant

Piasún, Phasianus colchicus. The best-known of our game birds, the Pheasant, is not native to Ireland; it has its origins in eastern Asia. First introduced here in the 16th century as a quarry species for hunters, it is now widespread throughout the country, the core wild population supplemented each year by thousands of captive-reared birds released by shooting clubs and gamekeepers.

Almost a metre long, if you include its tail, the male Pheasant is unmistakable. The body is generally a metallic copper or chestnut overall, with some light and dark scallops and chevrons on the back and breast, a barred ginger tail, a rather small metallic green head with a short tuft on each side of the crown and prominent red facial wattles. Many, but not all, also show a white ring around the neck, and some are much greener overall; this variation is a result of cross-breeding between several different races. The female is a little smaller, with a shorter tail, and is much better camouflaged, being a heavily flecked brownish-buff overall. Both sexes tend to behave like domestic chickens in the way they walk and feed; in fact, both species belong to the same family.

As with most game birds, Pheasants tend to be quite shy and skulking, but they can become quite tame in areas where there is no hunting. They are fast runners, and often choose to escape approaching danger on foot. Other times they will sit tight until the last minute if approached, suddenly exploding out almost from underfoot with a noisy clatter. Their short, rounded wings are ideal for a quick burst of speed and enable them to make a near-vertical take-off, though of course this offers them little protection against the shotgun.

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