When I was a student in Winchester, we had a pheasant in the grounds of our student accommodation. My friend Harry and I named him ‘Eric’. The name has stuck throughout the years, and my children now call male pheasants Eric, and female pheasants, Edwina. Pheasants have always made me smile – they are beautiful birds that seem ever so slightly dim.
Now to divide the pack.
It’s that time of year when carcasses start to litter the Devon roads as pheasants fly into the path of passing cars. Perhaps this is their vain attempt to flee to a place of safety, or maybe a suicide mission to avoid the worse fate of being winged by shot and left to die slowly in the undergrowth.
You may have guessed I am not a fan of pheasant shooting. I have never understood the pleasure someone can get from blasting these poor birds. It’s not a ‘sport’, it’s a massacre. There’s nothing clever about it. I believe shoots are referred to as ‘driven’ or ‘walked up’. How much more pleasant a ‘walked up’ shoot sounds, but at the end of the day to the terrified birds it doesn’t matter much what it’s called, it’s the ‘shoot’ bit that matters.
I have friends and acquaintances who raise pheasants, host shoots or even go on shoots themselves. I just don’t know what to say to them. Is there anything remotely ethical about this activity?
I’ve read that over 35 million pheasants are released each year in the UK. 35 million. Bewildered, befuddled, beautiful birds that don’t stand a chance. 35 million birds that aren’t, in fact, native to this country. How many of them actually get eaten (which I admit at least offers a reason for killing them)? Not 35 million, that’s for sure.
Who owns the pheasants that escape from the shooting area, and who is responsible for the accidents caused by soft-hearted drivers, like me, swerving to avoid birds in the road? I remember clearly the first occasion that I did this, on my way to Warwick on the A46 in the 1980s. Thank goodness there was no-one behind me as I did a first-class emergency brake. I was told later that I should have just carried on, that the bird’s life was worth less than mine. But it’s hard to fight instinct, and, for me personally, hard to contemplate killing any creature (see ‘Slugs & Snails‘).
I’ve seen on more than one occasion, a female pheasant that has managed to raise chicks in the wild. Like any bird, they are protective of their young. I was walking my collie once, when a bird leapt into the path and made a fearful racket, taking an attacking stance that threw the pooch off entirely. It wasn’t until I got close that I noticed the tiny baby pheasants on the path. Suffice to say we took a wide berth and left the mum to care for her little ones.
But this raises another memory, of a friend whose partner rears pheasants for a local shoot. I remember her saying ‘He’s got to go and check on them, he takes such good care of them.” Really? I don’t call releasing thousands of young pheasants to be blown away by stupid, inept people taking ‘good care’.
Two years ago, I ran over a pheasant for the first time (and I hope, the last). It ran out into the road and straight under the wheels of my car. There was nothing I could do about it, and I was mortified. The only solace I could take was that at least death was instantaneous and the bird would never be blasted by incompetent idiots, possibly wounded and left to die in agony.