A Game Bird in Langley, Eastbourne

By Elizabeth Wright

Her audiences were fascinated as she sat on the back shelf of her owner’s Citroen Estate, looking like a large chicken in fancy  dress. One little boy pointed to the bird and said, ‘Look mum, there’s a chicken in that car.’ The mother replied, ‘If you tell any more fibs, I won’t get you an ice-cream.’ ‘But, mum, there is.’ That was Brook, a glamorous silver pheasant who was totally convinced she was a human. By rights she should never have made it into the world; Nature tried to finish her off when a hungry fox raided her parent’s nest, killing her father and traumatising her mother so much, that, when she laid two more eggs, a day or so later, she refused to sit on them. Her owners, Dockie and Peter Deane, who, for many years ran dog boarding kennels at Langney, Eastbourne, said, “We couldn’t see the tiny thing die, so we put it in a box and brought it indoors in the warm.”

Lovingly reared on hard-boiled eggs and chick crumbs, the little silver pheasant thrived, but having people as parents she became humanised and refused to return to her peers in the garden. She originally slept in a little box in the kitchen, but when the room was being decorated, she was temporarily moved into the bedroom, still in her box. But she jumped onto the end of the bed, settled down, and from then on insisted that was where she was going to sleep.

Although she ate pheasant food, her diet could best be described as cosmopolitan. She liked assorted insects and worms, salad with French dressing, Hovis bread with blackcurrant jam, Smarties and Jelly-Tots, bacon and eggs and she adored American ice-cream. On her birthday each year she always had a cake decorated with candles. If she looked a little ‘off-colour’ she loved the taste of Complan, which often perked her up. When she was young, the local vet. voiced his opinion that Brook wouldn’t live very long unless she was fed on ‘proper food for pheasants.’ Throughout her life Brook was always willing to try any interesting new foods. She was also partial to a drop of diluted orange juice as a change from water.

She never liked being separated from ‘her’ family, a point she clearly made early in life. When the Deanes went out one evening, leaving, as they thought, one tired little bird fast asleep, they returned to find that Brook had trashed all she could lay her beak on; in furious temper that she had been left behind, she knocked china ornaments and scent bottles onto the floor and ripped a box of paper hankies into confetti. After that, a family friend, Mary, was needed as a bird-sitter.

To Brook, it was perfectly normal to ride in a car around Eastbourne, watch TV until 11pm or snooze in an armchair. She was an excellent guard bird, standing by the door to personally vet all callers. Not everyone passed her test. Two spaniels belonging to visiting relatives were terrified of her because she used to round them up, chase them onto the settee and nip their toes as they tried to escape. She was equally as selective with car passengers. A family friend, when offered a lift, was attacked when he unsuspectingly opened the door, and was chased down the road by an angry Brook pecking furiously at his ankles. Another time Dockie returned to the car and fond blood spattered around; the bird was uninjured, so it appeared someone had tried to break in and paid a painful price of numerous bites inflicted by the bird’s sharp edged beak.

During her bird life Brook had her fair share of hazardous experiences. Briefly left unsupervised , the tips of her her long tail feathers started to smoulder when she ventured too close to an open fire. Another time she tried running across melting ice on the duck pond and almost slipped through a large crack and drowned. Fascinated by this shiny wet stuff, she did a disappearing act on another winter’s day and was finally spotted on the little duck pond’s island. She must have followed the ducks and flown there, but then tried to copy the water fowl when they decided to swim back. Although her little legs were paddling furiously, her feathers were taking up so much water that she began sinking fast. Dockie and Mary managed to haul her out, and dry her with a towel.

After the Sussex hurricane of ‘87, an amorous wild pheasant turned up in the garden, and as a result of this liaison, Brook produced 48 eggs over the following months. But motherhood didn’t seem to have much appeal as she laid most of them on the large mantelpiece , where they rolled off and smashed.

Towards the end of her life, hormonal changes brought about alterations to her plumage, the speckled brown feather s turned into the splendid male colours of navy and silver. As an old lady her eyesight wasn’t quite what it used to be, but her spirit remained undaunted. She died at the grand old age of twenty and was buried in her favourite patch of garden under a rose bush in her Eastbourne garden called ‘Sweet Magic.’


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