March 20, 2016

Fair game

My Twitter friend, the singer Citizen Helene, had an unusual visitor to her Tottenham garden this week:

Photo by Hannah Scott

Meanwhile, around the corner from my South London flat there's a poster on a tree asking people to look out for a male pheasant which has also been seen in someone's garden, possibly injured. London doesn't seem like the kind of place you'd see game birds, but my birder friend David Darrell-Lambert says they breed on Tottenham Marshes, so Helene's pheasant was probably dispersing from there (ie a young bird, striking out on its own to breed, in spring). Although most often seen on the ground, pheasants can and do fly, and have also been known to use railway lines to travel along.

An introduced species, bred and released each year in their millions to be shot for sport, pheasants have been recorded as breeding in 40% of tetrads (survey areas) in the London area, and their population has been stable here since about the year 2000. However, the 'London area' in this instance means a circle with a 20-mile radius centred on St Paul's, ie 1,256 square miles. Within that, the parts where pheasants are seen tend unsurprisingly to be rural rather than suburban – let alone fully urban, like Streatham and Tottenham.

In cities pheasants are vulnerable both to traffic and predation, particularly by foxes and cats. They may also struggle to find adequate sources of food. It's unlikely that they'll become regular fixtures in London gardens, but as occasional visitors they're still a welcome breath of countryside air.