Here at Nead an Iolair we have a resident pheasant, Finbarr. He stays around all year, sometimes alone, but more often with a female or two, or even three, in tow.
Pheasants aren’t native to Ireland, or even to the UK, having been introduced as game birds by the Normans there. It’s estimated they have been in Ireland from at least the 1500s, and they are very numerous – certainly not in danger, although they are hunted.
Finbarr is very beautiful. First of all, he’s a big bird, about the size of a small chicken, with sturdy legs and long tail feathers. But it’s his colouring that sets him apart. Overall, he’s a reddish brown colour, but his breast gleams copper and gold in the sun. He has a white neck ring and above it the real drama starts – his neck and the top of his head is an iridescent blue-green, but shades into purple around his cheeks. And then there are the wattles – brilliant scarlet flaps that cover each cheek and hang down either side of his face. Little blue-green crests stick up above the eyes like tiny horns.
Can you see the female?
All that brilliant plumage makes him very attractive to the ladies, apparently. It must be so, because in the course of the spring he usually acquires a harem. We have seen him closely guarding up to three females. He herds them around, keeping them always in sight – sometimes they look quite annoyed at all the attention. The females don’t have the gorgeous plumage, although they have equally long tail feathers, once much prized for decorating hats.
Ruffling up the feathers is part of the courtship ritual
Other males appear occasionally and then there is a tussle for dominance as Finbarr defends his territory and his harem. After much squawking and flying at each other, the interloper backs down and Finbarr resumes his strutting and herding.
They like all the seeds that Robert puts out and wander around pecking away under the bird table. Finbarr is not above getting up on the bird table, where he looks a little ridiculous. He can’t manage our new feeders, though, as there is nowhere he can perch.
The pheasants get along with all the other birds – the small birds aren’t afraid of them, and the pheasants don’t seem to be bothered by the big black rooks that descend in flocks. I guess they are big enough not be be intimidated. And that even extended to Ferdia! Remember Ferdia, our friendly and much-loved fox? I loved that they seemed content to just hang out in the garden together.
In late spring the females disappear – they’re tending their nests, with no assistance from Finbarr, who continues to strut around like the lord of the manor. I’m not sure how successful they have been at breeding, though: we’ve only seen one brood of chicks over the years. We think the nests aren’t far away, likely on the ground in among the shrubs at the west end of the garden, bordering on the field.
How did we decide on Finbarr as a name? Well, Finbarr is the patron saint of Cork, after all – but take a look at this stained glass image of him. It’s by William Dowling and it’s in the Catholic Church in Bantry. Can you see the resemblance?
Here he is, below, in full courtship mode – all puffed up, colours aglow, crests up, and slightly trailing one wing. He means business!
Long may Finbarr reign as King of the Lawn at Nead an Iolair!