Meet the bird brain who thinks his reflection is a rival

A pheasant has taken up residence in a sculpture made of mirrors on Exeter University’s campus, believing his own reflection is a rival male he must see off.

The handsome cock pheasant has been living in a mirror sculpture on the University of Exeter’s campus since May.

The bird, a common pheasant believed to be around two years old,  gazes into the 6 mirrors, part of a sculpture entitled Reflected Vision by Kenny Munro. He struts around the sculpture, and in between its mirrors, apparently communicating with other birds.

Animal behaviour experts at the University of Exeter say the cock pheasant believes other males have moved into his territory, and that he must confront them.

University staff who watch the pheasant’s antics from their office windows, have unofficially adopted the pheasant, whom they have named Brewster, after the inventor of the Kaleidoscope.

His arrival coincides with research by Dr Joah Madden, an expert on animal behaviour at the University of Exeter which shows that pheasants have exceptionally small brains. Researchers compared roadkill figures from the 1960s and 2010s – before and after the start of mass release programmes of pheasants for shooting – and found pheasants remain disproportionately likely to be run over than other birds.

Professor Madden, who has also carried out research into the behaviour of pheasants, said that the bird  would now be particularly worried that other male pheasants have moved into his territory.

From November onwards male and female pheasants start to segregate and males carve out their own territory, trying to see off rival males.

“By putting up a mirror sculpture, we have put potential opponents there and when he moves they seem to move towards him. It must be particularly disconcerting,” said Professor Madden.

The 8 foot mirrored sculpture, has three double-sided mirrors, and is located on the Exeter University Campus outside the Bill Douglas cinema museum.

It is part of a collection of 40 sculptures on display on Exeter’s campus by artists including Barbara Hepworth, Paul Mount and Geoffrey Clarke. The University has a sculpture walk through campus and is open to members of the public.