When James found Phillip the Pheasant repeatedly banging his beak against the metal food bin in his enclosure at the weekend, we knew the time had come to release him. It wasn’t as if he was hungry – his bowl of pellets was full to the brim – no, this kind of demented behaviour suggested boredom and frustration. And who can blame him?
Shortly after we took him in on 10 May (see blog ‘Chick Delivery’) when he was just a mystery chick that we hoped was a chicken, we’ve had mixed feelings about raising a game bird. But then who wouldn’t take in a tiny chick if their neighbours brought it over in a washing-up bowl one spring evening, if they have all the equipment to keep him alive?
It was wonderful to see him grow into a handsome pheasant, despite my initial disappointment that we didn’t have another hen on our hands. But then we had to keep him safe from Darcy the German Shepherd and other predators, so we raised him in an enclosed brick-built house and run once he was big and strong enough to leave the brooder we’d set up in our dining room. As he grew, this felt increasingly wrong and yet until he was three months old we feared he wouldn’t be able to fend for himself in the wild.
There was a great sense of relief, therefore, on Saturday afternoon as James and I fetched a cardboard box in which to transport him down to the willow beds at the end of the Smallholdings garden. However, it was with some satisfaction that our hands-off approach had worked: Phillip proved so untamed and so quick that it took us some time – and extra resources – to catch him in his small run. First I went into his house where he had retreated, equipped with a pair of gardening gloves. Phillip was so frantic however that he flew about between the walls at great speed and somewhat alarmed after he’d flown at my face and landed on my back as I crouched over to catch him, I retreated totally beaten – not to mention, a little scratched. Next in went James shrewdly wearing the visor he usually reserves for chainsawing and strimming.
With this extra protection, he finally captured Phillip and put him in the box. Taking a dish of water and plenty of food, we walked down the garden and over the fence to find a suitable spot to release him. Wanting to encourage him to roost in trees like his fellow pheasants, we put his cardboard box down by a low-branched hawthorn that edges our plot. Scattering the surrounding ground with pellets and putting his water down, we lay the box on its side and slowly opened up the flaps.
Much to our surprise, there was no rapid escape: Phillip remained inside, no doubt shell-shocked by his journey. We left him to emerge in his own time and returned later to find an empty box and a little tunnel through the undergrowth nearby. There was little else we could do now and even several days later, it still feels very peculiar to have raised a creature for three months and just to release it into the wild. But if the fight he put up with us is anything to go by, he’ll be able to fend for himself.
Meanwhile, all’s well with our other birds, though I’m still waiting for Audrey, our white Araucana, to resume production. Thankfully, her sister Mabel is laying regularly again now and I’m prizing her pale-blue eggs like never before. Between her and the hybrids, I’ve a dozen and a half to take to the office today and ensure my Country Living colleagues are in cooked breakfasts this weekend.