Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pleasant Pheasants

Common Pheasant cock.
Green Pheasant, the national bird of Japan.

Pheasants lump up in several genera within the subfamily Phasianinae in the order Galliformes, which includes chickens.

All pheasants are native to Asia, and the common ring neck birds, and various hybrids of the same, that are shot in South Dakota, England, and France are actually immigrants from Mongolia and China.

Silver Pheasant
Blue Eared Pheasant

Most tropical birds do not do well in areas of cold, but certain species of pheasants -- such as the Ring Neck -- originated in parts of Mongolia or China not so very different in climate and cover from parts of South Dakota or rural England.

Of course, these foreign birds did not necessarily grow up used to the phenomenal predator load we have with fox, hawks, feral cats, coyotes, and the like. Nor were they ever found in such massive numbers that a hunting party could be guaranteed to go out and bag 4 birds in a morning's shoot, much less 40 or 400.

Ring Neck Pheasant 
Silver Pheasant
Elliot's Pheasant
Chinese Golden Pheasant
Silver Pheasant
Himalayan Monal

And so, with the arrival of the gun and the railroad providing ready access to quick hunting in the countryside, the era of bird dogs and paid shoots with stocked birds began.

Lady Amerherst Pheasant
Siamese Fireback Pheasant
Mikado Pheasant
Reeve's Pheasant
Chinese Golden Pheasant
Blood Pheasant
Koklass Pheasant

As I wrote some time back
, in a series of eight posts about the history of terriers:

Rapid improvements in shotguns, combined with relatively easy escape from the city by train, created a new form of leisure sport — the driven bird shoot in which partridge and pheasants were raised in large mesh pens and released “into the wild” a few days prior to the arrival of “the guns”.

After the birds acclimated themselves for a few days or weeks, beaters and dogs joined the guns in a long line, flushing birds out of cover. Hundreds of birds — at a set price per bird — were shot over the course of a few hours time.

Both the mounted fox hunts and the organized bird shoots required a certain number of working terriers, but for slightly different reasons.

The mounted hunts employed terriermen to find and “earthstop” fox and badger dens so that fox were forced to run long distances when raised by the hounds. If a fox did manage to go to ground, a terrierman was called to bolt the fox from the earth for another chase, or to dig down for dispatch. In some cases, an animal was bagged in order to replenish fox extirpated from other hunt lands.

Terriers were also used to protect pheasants and partridges being raised in netted enclosures for the shoots.

For gamekeepers, the primary tools for fox eradication were poison and leghold traps (gins), which were fast, efficient and cheap. Secondary tools were low-cost snares, long dogs (lurchers) and long guns used over bait at night. These last methods are still used today in the U.K.

Fox eradication with terrier and spade, while far and away the most humane form of fox control, is slow and inefficient. In addition, because fox rarely lay up in warm weather unless driven to ground by pursuing hounds, terrier work offers a frustratingly short season for a gamekeeper to eradicate fox over a large shooting estate. Gun, snare, traps and poison, however, can be used all year long.

In the early 1800s, the era of stocked bird shoots had not yet begun. Though mounted fox hunting had been spreading across Great Britain for nearly 200 years, the practice was not yet ubiquitous in the British countryside. Terriers used by farmers and mounted hunts alike remained a catch-as-catch can affair.

Blyth's Tragopan
Himalayan Monal
Blyth's Tragopan
Palawan Peacock Pheasant
Swinhoe's Blue Pheasant
Temminck's Tragopan


geonni banner said...

Awesome! Thanks for the tour of pheasant kind. Quite a few I haven't ever seen.

Kitti said...

Thanks for a gorgeous post. Pictures are amazing, as is the info.