Ring-necked pheasant takes Cape Breton mail carrier under his wing

Whether it’s love or territoriality, a mail carrier in Sydney, Cape Breton, is perplexed by the attention he’s been getting over the last few weeks from a male ring-necked pheasant.

“Maybe I’m annoying, maybe I’m in his territory. I don’t know. It’s quite the sight,” John Ross told CBC’s Maritime Noon

“I thought it was pretty unusual to see because I’ll be doing the mail for 16 years, thereabouts, and never had anything like that happen before.”

Ross said the pheasant he has nicknamed Brownie has been a regular companion along his route for the past month or so. 

“The first time I seen him, I didn’t know what to make of it. I was like, ‘Do I run?  Oh, wait now, it’s not a dog, it’s a bird.’ So anyway he’s just kind of was more curious, I guess, than anything,” said Ross. 

The pattern is the same during each encounter.

The pheasant approaches Ross, usually along the second half of the route. Then he’ll follow Ross for several blocks, waiting patiently at the end of each driveway. 

However, as time goes on, Brownie seems to be getting a little more bold. 

“I just noticed every time after that he seemed to get a little more aggressive,” said Ross.

“He’d come a little closer and peck at your feet, you know, and then there’s one time there he actually flew up and tried to peck at my arm.”

Andrew Horn, a research adjunct in Dalhousie University’s biology department, said similar birds like grouse are known to be aggressive to humans from time to time. 

“Males compete intensely in the spring, and can rely on fairly simple cues to pick out other males to attack, so these cases are probably males that are just overdoing it,” Horn said in an email, adding something similar could be happening with this pheasant.

‘He seems pretty tame’

According to Cornell University’s website on ring-necked pheasants, the birds are native to Asia and have been extremely successful as an introduced species across North America. 

Ross said a few people in the neighbourhood have mentioned a local man raises the pheasants and then releases them into the wild when they’re old enough to take care of themselves. He said there’s two females and about six or seven males around.

“I mean he seems pretty tame. That’s for sure,” he said. 

Horn said it’s possible the bird may have imprinted on humans early in life. 

“Many precocial birds (the kinds in which the young are walking and feeding themselves soon after hatching, like chicken chicks) treat whatever parent-like thing they see after hatching as their own species,” said Horn.

“That helps them follow their parent (usually the mum) to safety right away, but if they see something else first (like a human) it can go horribly wrong.”

As to why this bird is attracted to Ross, he has one theory. 

“I was thinking, I could be wrong, but you know when there’s ice on the ground we usually use the cleats on the bottom of our shoes. And it kind of makes a clicking noise,” he said.

Perhaps that’s what’s got Brownie’s attention. 

Maybe the bird is interested in a job as a mail carrier, said Ross. 

“I was thinking about putting a satchel on his back. See how that goes,” he said.

Regardless of the pheasant’s motivations, the videos Ross has been posting on have been drawing people’s attention. 

“There’s one lady, she said she watches it every morning, the video, because she said it makes her laugh so much … she said it was so cute.”


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