Outdoor Writing Contest finalist: Pecking Order
My family has a knack for acquiring unexpected pets.
The parakeets were the first. We were just babysitting the two birds for a couple days, but the owner did not want them back.
Then there was the fish tank, which was followed by three more, and then the cat.
We neither expected nor wanted more permanent pets when we saw the ad in the newspaper asking for volunteers to raise batches of pheasant chicks before releasing them into the wild. It sounded like a fun, one-time, summer activity. We didn’t know what we were getting into when my mom brought home the 25 balls of fluff.
The pheasant chicks looked adorable on the first day when I saw them sleeping in a large box under a heating lamp, but soon the problems began.
The chicks would trap themselves behind the water dish where they would peep in protest until they were rescued. If one chick was accidentally scraped up, the others would try to eat it alive, but if it was separated it would loudly peep and run in circles until it was reunited with the killer siblings.
To make matters worse, one chick started acting oddly. It would shake violently and run into walls. When all the other chicks finally quit peeping and lay down to rest, the odd chick would plow right though the sleeping mass and wake them all.
When it finally found food or water, it banged its head uselessly in and around it. After a couple of days, we finally figured out it had become blind. We tried placing it in a small box with two other chicks recovering from being pecked by their larger siblings, but it just drove them crazy with its mindless meanderings.
Eventually the time came to move the pheasants outside. They had started jumping out of their box, forcing us to chase them around the house. We transferred them into the shed. After a few weeks, we built a pen outside of the shed for the restless pheasants. They weren’t really chicks anymore; they started flying and attempting to escape.
The pheasants would eat the grass, roots and all.
The runts stayed small while the three males got bigger, but the blind pheasant was the easiest to discern. Not only was it the smallest, but it had a stumbling walk, ran into things and had an unnatural, slightly narrow head.
We would often sit and watch the pheasants for hours. After leveling the lawn, they dug trenches where they would dust-bathe, shaking so violently that dirt flew in all directions, showering nearby siblings.
After an especially hard rainstorm, one of the pheasants couldn’t wait for the mud to dry. We laughed when we found it miserably trying to preen its muddy feathers.
My brother and I started to name the most notable of the batch. Though usually skittish, one pheasant called Peeper would try to take food – and sometimes fingers – from peoples’ hands.
Cannibal tried to pull out its siblings’ feathers, except for Darth Vader’s, who was the largest, scariest looking, male pheasant.
The blind pheasant remained unnamed since Nutsy, the name my brother suggested, was unacceptable.
Our backyard birds were surprisingly quiet, never bothering us or our neighbors, except for one night when the neighbors’ cat tried to get into the pen. It resulted in much panic and the escape of a few birds. All but two returned.
During an extremely windy week, the pen’s wall blew down twice. The first time the pheasants immediately returned. The second time they discovered their excellent flying abilities. We chased them across our yard, the neighbors’ yard, and all the way down the street.
For the next couple of days, the few remaining fugitive pheasants returned, begging to be reunited with the flock.
The sweet, but sort-of nutty blind pheasant refrained from trouble, but the rest of the flock had decided to eliminate the nuisance by eating it alive.
We had to remove the blind pheasant even though it peeped in protest at being separated from murderous siblings. We built it a permanent enclosure. Since it was obvious we were keeping the blind hen, we decided to name it. Sadly, my brother chose the name that stuck – Bugarita.
We were glad to finally release the rest of the pheasants, knowing we would get to keep one. After trapping and stuffing the grown birds into boxes, we drove to a friend’s farm with the trunk full of scared-silent pheasants.
When we opened the boxes, they scattered in all directions. After a few minutes we heard quiet peeping as the flock started to reunite in preparation for their new life in the great outdoors.
Later we made the mistake of getting the lonely blind pheasant some chicken companions. When they were little, the chicks were cute, but soon we realized they were not like pheasants at all. The four chickens provided just as much destruction and a hundred times more noise than the 25 pheasants, yet they turned out to be equally mean.
Bugarita had to be separated for a second time as the hens became aggressive to the odd stumbling pheasant.
Once the blind bird, accidentally spooked, flew up a hill and landed in a fir tree where it waited to be rescued
Bugarita is still around, laying grey, green and blue eggs. Even with all its quirks, the pheasant hen is an amazing addition to our household.