Solving the puzzle of Ferdinand

February 2015

Sometime in September 2014, a feathered pheasant with a rather magnificent long tail and red facial feathers wandered into the reserve at the back of our home on Phillip Island.

He meandered up and down the reserve, calling out periodically with a double raucous sqwark – grarrrrrrrk grarrk (that’s about the closest I can get in English).  One thing’s for sure, he had a distinctive call.

For those who aren’t bird savvy, pheasants are not remotely native to the state of Victoria, let alone Australia.  They just plain don’t live here in the wild.  So to see one popping in and out of the bush … well, you know it’s not normal.

For a few months he kept everyone with properties backing onto the reserve highly entertained.  One neighbour left a bucket of water on the back fence for him (which the wallabies made good use of) and our pheasant ran joyfully along the fence line staying hydrated and cool.

A name …

Didn’t take long before we called him Ferdinand.  I thought it had great flair for such a distinctive and noisy bird.

Each weekend was spent listening for his calls and chasing him around with a camera.  He was pretty cadgey though.  You would see him scurrying about, but not long enough to get a great photo.

Closeup of Ferdinand
Fuzzy close-up of Ferdinand
And where?

The entire neighbourhood wondered from whence Ferdinand had come. Various theories were suggested and our best guess involved an escapee from a pheasant farm.  However, no-one was aware of such an enterprise anywhere on the island.

Moving forwards …

It’s now February 2015.  Ferdinand hasn’t been seen or heard for a few weeks, so we’re all missing his fleeting feathered personnage. He’s part of our lives, eagerly looked for, and his appearances were much anticipated by the all. He’s caused a lot of neighbourhood bonding to go on over the fences.

So we figured Ferdinand pheasant was either:

1.  dead from snakebite
2.  run over by a vehicle
3.  died from starvation (no clue as to what  pheasants eat)
4.  pined away from lack of a scrumptious female companion
5.  mauled or eaten by vicious dog
6.  found somewhere better to live

It’s now pushing towards mid February without any sign of Ferdinand.  We are all devastated.  Everyone’s listening out for him but it’s still suspiciously quiet.

Then on Saturday, a neighbour announces Ferdinand has been spotted drinking from the bucket.  We are delirious with happiness.  This is the best news since Gregoire the Magnificent unexpectedly announced he was nicking down to the supermarket to get a chocolate bavarian & cream for dessert.

Late afternoon I finally hear him call briefly but despite rushing out to look, he’s vanished into the bush.  At least we know he’s alive … a very good sign.

The mystery unfolds

Late afternoon, being a beautiful summer’s evening, we stroll around Silverleaves and turn down a very short dead-end street.

We’ve lived here for about 10 years and never walked down this street because it hardly seemed worthwhile. But today we spot a house and can’t work out where the driveway is.  Perhaps it’s off this dead end road?

Yes, it certainly is and what’s more, there’s a wide grassy path at the end used as an access road between the hobby farms and our reserve.  We’re quite thrilled – if there’s ever a fire in the area, it’s an excellent exit to escape.

Because anything new is such fun to explore, we walk down the grassy path and marvel at all the wildlife in the reserve.  Wallabies, rainbow lorikeets, purple swamp hens (called pukekos in New Zealand), wagtails, ducks variants, kookaburras, ravens, blackbirds, a few bazillion rabbits and even an orange bellied snake.  A horse languishes in a paddock, being kept company by a wallaby and two swamp hens sneaking drinks from his water trough.

On the right, above the fence of the first hobby farm, I see heaps of netting.  So I climb the fence and peek over.  And yeah, you guessed it.  Under the  netting are about a dozen pheasants – some female, some male.  Bingo.

Mystery unravelled

At last we know the location of Ferdinand’s real home.  While the netting is to stop the birds flying away, it obviously wasn’t good enough to hold in a gentleman  pheasant with the strength, charisma and talent of our feathered friend.

We also now understand why he’s not moving away too far away.  For all we know, he goes home at night and perches on the netting so he can see his girlfriends.  I’ve since discovered they squawk mostly during the breeding season. As we roll into late summer, the mating season is over and hence his lack of noise.

Puzzle solved.  Unless he’s caught, may we have many years ahead with our Ferdinand clackerting around the reserve providing endless entertainment.

Additional information on pheasants:

Burkes Backyard

  • Pheasants are very secretive birds and can easily be alarmed. They are generally not vocal but tend to squawk during the breeding season.
  • Pheasants are omnivorous, eating everything from fruit and vegetables, seeds, grains, roots, bulbs, leaves, insects, grasshoppers, slugs and snails to small lizards.

Wikipedia

  • Common pheasants are native to Asia, their original range extending from between the Black and Caspian Seas to Manchuria, Siberia, Korea, Mainland China and Taiwan.
  • The birds are found in woodland, farmland, scrub, and wetlands. In its natural habitat, the common pheasant lives in grassland near water with small copses of trees.
  • Common pheasants can now be found across the globe due to their readiness to breed in captivity and the fact they can naturalise in many climates.