Emma Samms: Meet Eric, the plucky pheasant
PUBLISHED: 16:46 20 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:46 20 April 2020
‘At what point does a wild animal become a pet? When the bag of bird seed comes out’
Is it possible to have a wild pheasant as a pet? I say ‘Yes’. The definition of ‘Pet’ is “an animal kept for entertainment or companionship”. But then you have to ask the definition of ‘kept’ and if that means providing food and water and making sure he doesn’t get run over by every vehicle that enters or leaves the house, then yes, Eric (that’s his name) is definitely a pet.
It all started when one particularly beautiful male pheasant decided that he was in charge of the garden. Anyone arriving or departing was escorted to and fro in a bossy and officious manner. A car was no match for the confidence and bullishness of this bird. He’d run alongside any moving vehicle and then dart in front of the wheels, provoking a stand-off that could last for many minutes and once nearly made me miss my train.
Despite the inconvenience, his predictable appearances and downright cheekiness was, inevitably, very endearing and my partner Simon and I couldn’t resist giving him a name. I’m not sure why he became ‘Eric’ but it seemed to fit and it meant that our warnings to visitors were taken a little more seriously when we cautioned them to “Please try not to run over Eric”. I posted pictures of Eric on social media and was grateful (on his behalf) to receive many appreciative comments on his beautiful colouring and fine plumage.
Then, one day, he didn’t show up. And the next day, despite the antagonistic rumble of our cars coming and going, he was nowhere to be seen. We worried. We imagined that a fox had got him or that he’d tilted at one too many cars. We saw other pheasants: a few females came and went and one male that was definitely not Eric, meandered in a decidedly un-Eric way through the garden.
Finally, on day three, he appeared! But, to our horror, he was injured. He was limping so badly that he could barely walk. And all his bravado was gone. Obviously, something awful had happened to Eric and he couldn’t be coaxed out from under the bushes at the back of the garden. This was the point at which I bought a large bag of wild bird seed and put a bowl of it as close to Eric as he would allow.
I had mentioned on Twitter that Eric was missing and the response to this, his reappearance and concern for his condition is truly heart-warming. Some messages were along the lines of “I am uncharacteristically invested in Eric the pheasant’s well-being”. We got a lot of “Yay Eric!”, “Bless him” and even Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden, (whom I’ve never met), tweeted “Go Eric!” to all her followers.
I do realise that many of you reading this will be baffled by anyone bonding with a pheasant. They may be beautiful but they are commonplace in the English countryside and their hopeless road sense promotes their reputation as being pretty stupid animals. I realise that some of you might even snigger at the thought of a pheasant with an international following, but in a world of negativity and extraordinarily depressing politics, a plucky pheasant being nursed back to health was a story that apparently appealed to many.
And I’m happy to say that Eric did recover. He ate heartily (whilst we stood guard and fended off squirrels), he put on weight, lost his limp and eventually resumed his duties as our Watch-Pheasant in Chief. He follows us around the garden and talks to us. Did you know that pheasants can purr?
It’s hard not to interpret his actions as friendly, but I’m well aware that all of his behaviours could be put down to him claiming his territory. When he sits on the wall and honks at me as I leave, whilst I’d like to think that he’s saying “Come back soon!”, it’s far more likely that he’s saying “And don’t come back!”. But that’s ok. Not only have I anthropomorphised him, I’ve given him a generous nature and I’m comfortable with that.
So Eric is definitely a pet. And from the size of him (thanks to all that wild bird seed), I’d say he’s comfortable with that too.