On April 16th I found a hen pheasant in the kitchen garden and a nest with 4 eggs. Nothing too unusual there although I thought it a little early in the year, among some bluebells, but quite exposed as she was under the mulberry tree which is the very last tree in the garden to come into leaf. By the 21st there were 7 eggs which over the coming days she added to at the rate of not quite one per day.
It was not until the 8th May that she finally settled down to incubate 15 beautiful shiny olive brown eggs about half the size of a chickens ‘ egg but more rounded. The nest was no more than a slight scrape in the ground with a couple of her feathers and some squashed bluebell stems. The amazing luck was I could see her all the time from my office window and every day she would do a little Jemima Puddle Duck foray, usually at about 3pm over the kitchen wall and into the fields for no doubt a wash, a feed and a drink. Now you may remember April was cold and frosty which a bird can cope with, but May was horrendous being cold and extremely wet with torrential showers and hail which is not so good and especially for eggs laid on the bare ground. No nice eider down for her brood. And there she sat often soaked and looking pretty miserable. Days went by and we wondered are the eggs chilled are they OK – is she OK?
Twenty one wet miserable days in which I planted out the peas, sweetcorn, courgettes, the potatoes came up and I sowed carrots and beetroot and gave her a wide berth so as not to disturb. I had to chase away a carrion crow one morning and kept the gates shut so no-ones’ dogs came in the kitchen garden, but it’s a relatively safe place. On the 23rd she had that little twinkle in her eye and she kept tilting her head to one side – she was hearing the chicks in their shells. And sure enough on the 24th May ten little bumblebees of birds appeared from under her tail, out of her wings by her throat and the surrounding vegetation.
That first day she stayed very close to the nest keeping the chicks dry in the showers and still brooding the remaining four eggs. Now pheasants normally move quickly away from their nests once the chicks are hatched to avoid predators, but while she was able to fly up onto the kitchen wall, obviously her chicks could not follow. I kept the two gates shut as I figured they were safer in the kitchen garden for their first day in the big wide World. And so began an assault on my mangetout, but she ended up the first night brooding the chicks between the purple sprouting, which has also taken a bashing, and a row of parsley which was obviously not to her taste. Hmmm herbs and pheasants!.
6:30am Wednesday morning May 26th she had not moved and its only at 8:30 when the sun came out did the first chick start to venture out and they all took a walk through the strawberries, before settling down among the garlic stems where there is a bit more cover – (they have been growing since November. ) As the day continued the chicks got bolder and more certain on their feet. Mrs P digs with her beak and calls them into look for invertebrates in the broken soil while she meanwhile sticks to a strictly vegetarian diet of my broad beans, peas and mangetout. I will also have to re-sow the carrots and beetroot. I do hope at least the chicks are finding slugs!
Thursday 27th May today I find the family up early walking and feeding by 6:30am, its amazing the increase in confidence levels after 24 hours. So I make the decision to open the gates to the kitchen garden, I have runner beans and more peas to plant out. However, its not until 3pm that they finally strike out to the big wide and dangerous world – I feel a little sad