Pheasants are ‘queer’ and can ‘change sex’, says museum

A pamphlet on LGBTQ+ history in England has caused a stir after claiming that the queer behaviour of pheasants is “often ignored.”

The leaflet, published by Hastings Queer History Collective, and designed by They Them Studio, offers tourists a guide through the seaside town’s LGBTQ+ history and museum collections.

Published in February 2023, it aims to present the “first queer history trail” and offers 11 stories to “illuminate the trials and triumphs of our LGBTQIA+ forebears”.

One of the stops is the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, which claims that a pair of stuffed pheasants on display represent “queer behaviour” among the birds.

“Despite queer behaviour in the animal kingdom being observed as far back as the 18th century, it is often ignored or hidden from the public,” the pamphlet says.

“One example is of female pheasants changing their sex when they stop laying eggs, [turning] their brown feathers into the brightly coloured feathering typical of males.”

The leaflet goes on to cite an 18th century paper, which, it says, features some of the earliest European studies of queer behaviour in animals.

“With queerness visible in the natural world, the argument that it is somehow ‘unnatural’ begins to unravel,” it claims.

The section has received criticism from right-wing organisations who claim the idea that pheasants can change sex is “nonsense.”

While pheasants cannot explicitly change sex characteristics, females are known to stop laying eggs and develop male plumage if there is a shortage of males in a group.

The change can also happen as the result of hormonal imbalances in female pheasants as they grow older.

Other species of birds exhibit similar behaviour, including certain types of ducks, although sex characteristics are far more complex in poultry than in humans, who have a lower sex dimorphism.

Other animals have been seen to change sex characteristics – typically for survival purposes – including lionesses who, if not enough males are present, will begin taking the role of a lion and grow a mane.