7 DECEMBER 1945, Page 15

Flourishing Aliens The absence of game-preservation, or at any rate

of artificial rearing, has indicated more certainly than ever before which birds are by nature, if not historically, native. Above the rest, pheasants have flourished alto- gether beyond expectation. The other day in a small wood--of 27 acres— a few guns shot in a very short day 120 birds, though none had been put down for six years. It is a surprising contrast that in a year when the red grouse—almost the only bird peculiar to Britain—had dwindled to most meagre proportions, the pheasant should have multiplied. Is it possible that the crossing of a number of different varieties has strengthened the species? The pheasant known as "the old English pheasant" was introduced to Britain certainly before the Norman Conquest and probably by the Romans. Its native habitat was a fairly wide area in the South-East of Europe and Asia Minor. Centuries later a Chinese pheasant, distinguished in the male by a white ring on the neck, was brought in, as well as a Japanese variety known as versicolor. Today a pure-bred old English pheasant is scarcely discoverable, but a better bird than the prevailing cross could scarcely be desired. Quite recently a number of more distinct varieties were bred on our game farms, especially the clumsily-called black " mutant " ; but it may be surmised that the dominating Chinese bird has had a popular pre- eminence with sportsmen and, indeed, gourmets.