The first time we met Gerard was on Christmas day. I was shoving a saucepan in the sink when, looking through the kitchen window, I noticed a little crimson-cheeked head pop up from behind a hedge.
“There’s a pheasant in the garden!” I whispered to Sarah, who was busy putting something in the oven.
“Dinner!,” she said, peering out through the December murk. As we watched, the pheasant wandered closer and closer to the kitchen window, moving its head in little suspicious jerks as it padded down the garden path.
The pheasant was only two feet away from the house when it finally spotted us. With a jolt of surprise, the bird rushed off with a flick of its ginger tail, running back up the garden path and flapping up into a tall conifer.
For weeks before, we’d heard the telltale pop of distant shotguns in the fields behind our house, and the hunting season, we guessed, was why this one, plucky pheasant had headed down to the safety of our garden.
Although understandably shy (I’d be shy too if people in waxed jackets and flat caps kept aiming guns at me all the time), the pheasant’s since become a regular visitor. When we haven’t seen him wandering around the garden, we’ve heard his distinctive cry echoing around the gardens on our terrace. The visits have become so frequent that Sarah has christened the pheasant Gerard.
We’ve been living here for eight months, and I’ve since realised that we’ve inadvertently bought our own miniature nature reserve. Aside from Gerard, we’ve seen mallard ducks, voles, woodpeckers (spotted and green), buzzards, rabbits, herons, doves, jays, and a mangy rat approximately the size of a greyhound.
The ducks come in a pair – I think they’re husband and wife – and have a strange tendency to sit on top of our dilapidated summer house (really a just a shed with glazed French doors) and admire the view. Once, I caught the man duck (known to science as a drake, I’m told) keeping watch while Mrs Duck took a morning bath in our ornamental water feature-type-thing.
When Mr Duck spotted me, he let out an urgent “quack” to his wife, and Mrs Duck hopped out, shook herself dry, and led the escape up the garden path.
Gerard’s definitely my favourite garden visitor. Even though he’s nervous around humans, he still comes down to the kitchen quite often. Up close, you can appreciate how bright his feathers are; his cheeks are a vivid crimson, the rest of his head a shiny emerald. He wears a stylish white collar around his neck, and the mottled feathers on his body appear to be flecked with gold when the sun catches them. His long, copper-coloured tale completes the ensemble.
With an outfit like this, it’s hardly surprising that pheasants are so cheerfully shot at – on a grey winter’s day, they might as well have a big target painted across their back.
Another reason why pheasants get shot: they’re absolutely terrible at playing hide and seek.
Blearily stumbling into the kitchen one morning to make a cup of tea, I spotted Gerard skulking around in a withered flower bed just outside the window (again). At exactly the same moment, Gerard’s permanently bewildered amber eyes met mine. Rather than attempt to fly away, he sort of slumped to the ground, his body flattening out as though the air were slowly seeping out of his feathers. All the while, his round eyes remained fixed on me, and he just lay there, a few wisps of foliage covering his beak and wings.
Gerard remained in this awkward, flattened position for several minutes, until I got bored and turned around to get a teabag out of a cupboard. This, clearly, was Gerard’s opportunity to initiate Operation Leg It, and he went dashing off back up the garden.
(For some reason, Gerard only flies when he absolutely has to – usually in the evening, when he’ll flap up into a tree, let out his “ka-krarr” call before turning in.)
Gerard’s habit of standing around on hedges and fences, calling into the winter air, left me wondering whether he was pining for some long-lost lover. And one day, shortly after winter had finally given way to spring, a female pheasant started appearing in our neighbour’s garden.
Since then, Gerard and Josephine (as we’ve called her) have taken turns in their visits to our kitchen window. Yesterday, Josephine came strolling down, peered around, pecked at a few things and cleared off again.
Today, Gerard paid another visit, and I’ve noticed that he’s become far more brazen since Josephine arrived. He swaggers around now, inspecting things like a king surveying his estate. I’ve seen him looking through the window of our conservatory, seemingly thinking, “Not bad. I think I’ll buy it.”
He’s also more territorial. I recently saw him walk past the summer house, catch sight of his reflection in the glass door and give it a testy jab with his beak. He stood there for a moment, staring motionlessly at himself, perhaps wondering why the other pheasant wasn’t moving either. Then he started walking around in a semi-circle, nonchalantly, as though trying to lull the reflection pheasant into a fall sense of security before… pow! He whipped around and charged full pelt at the French door, neck out straight, beak forward like a lance.
With a hollow “clonk”, Gerard bounced off the glass and staggered backwards, dazed.
Giving the reflection pheasant a reproachful look, Gerard retreated to next door’s garden, where Josephine was hanging around in the morning sun.
I can imagine the story Gerard might have told Josephine. How there was a rival pheasant in his land next door, with less vibrant feathers than his. How he bravely challenged the other pheasant to a duel, and after giving him a demonstration of his superior jousting skills, the rival bird fled, and if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll never come back.
Josephine would probably have just nodded, too polite to explain that he’d wasted the entire morning picking fights with his own reflection.