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Totems: Pheasant

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman

Examine what your attraction to one another is based on. Is it looks, style, how another makes you feel? Will it deepen to love? If so, will that love allow you to be authentic, able to express your deepest heart, be yourself without fear of judgment? Will you offer the same things? Do you trust one another? WE ARE PHEASANT, the bejeweled ones. See through the allure to the truth beneath. When we are able to live naturally in safety, we flourish. Then, we fulfill our destinies – our own, and for our progeny. What legacy are you leaving?

It was early December; the temperature was in the 40’s. Walking down a dirt road, I heard a crowing sound, accompanied by noisy wing flapping. A female pheasant flew from a small copse of trees at the edge of a recently cleared field, to the trees on the other side. As I stopped, expanded my peripheral vision and allowed myself to expand into greater awareness, I scanned the copse for her mate, though it’s unusual for a mated pair to be together in December. Sure enough though, a male was watching me from high in a tree, and when my head stopped moving, as I locked eyes on him, he flew away to join her, uttering a series of hoarse “kok, kok, kok’s. Maybe the temperature made them think it was spring.

It didn’t last. As I write this in western Massachusetts, January is tumbling into February, and ice covers everything. For those fortunate enough to travel south in winter, there is no dearth of opportunities in the tropics for passion – the brilliant sun, music with earthy rhythms, sensuous body movements, flamboyant flowers, balmy winds and passionate meetings. When it’s cold, cloudy, or precipitating, passion, creativity and sexuality can take a back seat. So, let’s call in Pheasant totem to heat things up a bit. 

The Ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), a wild game bird, originally came from a region in Asia Minor, east of the Black Sea. From there, they have been introduced worldwide. Richard Bache, Benjamin Franklin’s son-in-law tried unsuccessfully to establish them in New Jersey in 1760 at his New Jersey plantation. It wasn’t until the 1880’s that they began to flourish, when the U.S. Consul to China sent 30 birds to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. By the 1890’s they became established on the Atlantic coast as well, first in New York, then Massachusetts. There are at least 30 sub-species of pheasant – a biological success story. As they naturalize easily in a variety of habitats, pheasants are now widely distributed in many parts of the world. In the United States and Canada, they stretch from coast to coast. This remarkable talent for surviving and reproducing bodes well for having many descendants. This one is fertile!

The presence of pheasant means that your sexual vitality is at a peak. Who can resist this paramour, strutting across your path with such assurance and magnetism? Color is very important to a pheasant person. If pheasant has paraded itself into your love life, you can set a romantic mood through the use of color. Are you an artist? Have you ever thought of being a color consultant, helping others choose their best colors to wear, or an interior designer? Male pheasants sport iridescent, blue, green, and black heads and feather-tufts. The body has copper-and-gold plumage, mottled with black, green and purple, bright scarlet face patches and wattles, and a white collar. Even less colorful females have beautiful shades of tan and brown, enabling them to blend in with field or marsh habitat. Both have long, pointed tails, and short rounded wings. The average top speed of a pheasant is 40-60 mph, but the wind, the angle of flight, and whether or not it has been abruptly flushed out determines its speed at any given time. The shape of a pheasant wing is a design that provides power for a quick escape, not sustained flight. When you’re in a tight spot, and need to get your energy moving fast in a short period of time, pheasant is the totem to call on. Since the short wings are adapted primarily to maneuvering in underbrush, they must fly with a rapid wing beat and considerable speed in order to stay in the air. Pheasants prefer to run, unless they are startled into quick flight. Then, strong breast muscles deliver bursts of power that allow them to spring nearly vertically into the air. Since the female has great camouflage, if you need to blend in for a while, female pheasant will help you with this. 

During mating season, males resort to elaborate plumage displays to attract mates. Besides gaudy plumage, a male is easy to detect at this time because of repeated, far-reaching, and explosive crowing. Wings whir loudly and can be heard far away. He’ll parade and perform a highly specialized courtship, breeding with a number of females, sometimes forming a harem of hens. He’ll enact a variety of displays, such as strutting or running, spreading both tail and wing closest to her, while erecting the red wattles around his eyes and the feather-tufts behind his ears. He may also “tidbit” that is, pose with his head low, offering her a morsel of food. A female may flee at first, leading the male on a chase punctuated by his courtship displays. But really, what female wouldn’t fall for one that can strut his stuff so charmingly and colorfully? Be forewarned, if you are in love with a man who has pheasant as his totem, he might be disinclined to have a monogamous relationship. Man or woman however, this totem attracts creativity and romantic partners. How you employ such energy is up to you.

Pheasant is no dandy. If an intruder should challenge the cock’s sovereign territory, he will approach them with head and tail erect, and may tear up grass that he then tosses around. Sometimes, they will resort to physical combat. After a series of escalating threat displays, fighting cocks flutter upward, breast to breast, and bite at each other’s wattles. They may take turns leaping at each other with bill, claws, and foot spurs, used either for attack or defense. Usually the challenger runs away before long, and these fights are rarely fatal. If this is your totem you will stand up for yourself, fight for the ones you love, and protect your family. Multiple females each lay from seven to fourteen eggs in a shallow scrape in a grassy field. Unfortunately, early mowing kills many mothers and young. If they survive the 24 days of incubation, chicks will fly about two weeks after hatching. By a mere 15 weeks, young look like adults.

Pheasants eat grasses, leaves, roots, nuts, berries and other fruits, insects and the occasional mouse, or other small invertebrates. Like turkeys, they have three toes in the front and one in the back. Feet or bills enable them to scratch a few inches into the soil for that root or insect. In autumn, pheasants will gorge themselves on grains, and seeds like those of skunk cabbage. As many birds do, Ring-necked pheasants take frequent dust baths, shaking their wings to sweep dust and sand into their feathers, and rubbing their heads while lying on their sides. Dust-bathing probably removes dead skin cells, oil, dirt, parasites, old feathers, and the sheaths of new feathers. Those with this totem are fastidious about their appearance.

A group of pheasants is called a Nye. Pheasants are gregarious outside of the breeding season, and form loose flocks from autumn to spring. If pheasant has strutted into your life, it may be a time to make new friends and meet new people. You may prefer to live in a light, airy, open space. Pheasants can be found in open farmland, favoring alfalfa or clover fields, cornfields and brushy areas. Although in autumn and winter, they roost in trees or dense shrubs, pheasants scratch for food on the ground. Are you outgoing, but somewhat shy? Normally you won’t see pheasants, as they hide in vegetation. If they do cross open ground, they run in a zigzag pattern.

Once they are hunted in their home territory, they associate humans with danger, and will quickly retreat, after hearing the arrival of hunters. As a game bird, they are much in demand by those who hunt them. There’s a Cherokee story told by Joseph Bruchac about how all the game animals were set free. Two boys surreptitiously followed their father to find out how he brought game home everyday, but when they accomplished this, they did not treat the animals with respect; therefore, the game animals fled. Providing sustenance became difficult for the people. Pheasants are often raised for the sole purpose of being let loose in game preserves, where they don’t stand a chance against hunters.

Besides hunters, who kill several million pheasants each open season, their predation occurs from changes in habitat when smaller farms, commonly having “edge” habitat, become factory farms with single crops. Typically, they drain marshes, spray weeds with pesticides, use chemical fertilizers and herbicides, over-graze, and mow roadsides and fields early in the nesting season. If we value these beautiful creatures, we must install management strategies that conserve and restore habitat, like providing nesting cover, dense enough to prevent detection by predators, and adequate winter cover.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 40 years; author of this column for 16 years. For Healing for you or your animal, testing your pet for Flower Essences, Training, or her Book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com

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