Why I Hate Pheasants

OK, it’s true, I don’t really hate pheasants. But the relationship is complicated!

You see, there are four species that are regularly seen in Bhutan, and we always see several and often all of them. But tour guides are really into control, and over pheasants we do not have much control. That’s the complication…

This Satyr Tragopan is not on a road. But you better believe it was just on a road! (Photo by guide Richard Webster)

Pheasants in Bhutan are most easily seen from the bus while driving along the road, which means we are dependent on the pheasants to step out onto the road just before we get to an unknowable “there,” not before some other vehicle gets to that spot. OK, so a bunch of luck is involved, but luck, as the saying goes, can be the residue of design, and we do have strategies.

Strategy number one is to be out early, or perhaps also late. What do pheasants do the rest of a nice day? I have no idea; readingWilliam Beebe’s A Monograph of the Pheasants on their 3G Kindles under a rhododendron has yet to be disproved as a possibility. In comparison with the introduced Ring-necked Pheasants we see in fields in North America, these pheasants are closely associated with forest and treeline scrub as cover, and they seem plenty savvy about sneaking away from approaching birders, even quiet approaching birders!

Blood Pheasants from the front and back photographed along the side of the road by guide Richard Webster.

What brings pheasants out of the forest? Bad Weather:  Neither sleet nor snow stops either our Post Office or pheasants, although the advent of electronic mail seems to be stopping our post office, whereas it is helping pheasants by reducing logging for paper production. Indeed, bad weather emboldens pheasants, so strategy number two is to make the best of bad luck. Last year we had wonderful looks at Blood Pheasants our first morning, and didn’t see any the rest of the trip because the weather was too nice. In other years, we have seen as many as 30 Blood Pheasants along the same roads during a late spring snow storm. You start to get the picture: Early + late or bad luck (weather), + some (good) luck = pheasants.

Pheasants are sexually dimorphic. So if a female Himalayan Monal steps out onto the road, is its ptarmigan-like beauty completely satisfying? Not for most of us. None of this electronic ink coloring for our tour groups; we are a Color Nook or iPad crowd, and we want males! Aaahh, another complication!

Bhutan offers other amazing birds and experiences beyond the glorious pheasants—Green-tailed Sunbird, lunch at Chele La, Ward’s Trogon, and Rufous-necked Hornbill are just a few. (Photos by guides Richard Webster & Rose Ann Rowlett)

 For more information about our Bhutan trips, visit our web page for the tour.