Organic Valley Headquarters is perched on one of many hills in La Farge, Wisconsin. In back, there is a space of yard between the building and some light woods. Dispersed among this lawn are gardens, bee hives, and a large bird feeder. The bird feeder is a beautiful contraption. It is essentially a five foot high six inch wide collection of perches constructed from birch branches and limbs and a few finished boards.
This morning at 8am the light was still dusky. The normal colorful troupe of birds had not yet arrived. There were only four furry squirrels. Then there was a smooth darting motion from the underbrush of the woods. The elongated pear shape and scuttling gait told me what it was before I could even look at the bird. A pheasant! She is a modest creamy tan color mottled with brown and black. I like pheasants, not for their beauty or their versatility, but because I find them incredibly amusing.
The pheasant has always struck me as one of the most comical of birds. It is so beautiful, yet it steps around like a common chicken. It has large powerful wings, yet it hardly ever flies. It prefers to bolt off running with its neck stretched out as far as it can go and the rest of its body rushing to catch up with the head. Its legs lift so high and move so rapidly it looks as though it were peddling a bicycle. After sprinting madly it bursts into a ball of feathers, flies for a few yards, and then glides to a landing. Although a wild bird that is hunted, it forsakes the romantic call of the wild if it finds the poultry feed in the barnyard more appealing.
Then there is the male’s ridiculous habit of chasing cars. Forget your neighbor’s rocks-for-brains Fido – the wild male pheasant in the height of breeding season is the worst. Between early April and through May, male pheasants are posted like sentinels on every country road. They stalk around their property with inflated chests and emit intermittent honks for hours. And every time a car comes by, they have to race it. Trying to get to town without hitting the entire male pheasant population in the neighborhood is not always easy. After a few weeks, you learn where they are posted and speed up before they can run out at you. I look in my rear view mirror and Mr. Pheasant will be strutting fiercely back and forth across the road, miffed at having missed his chance to chase my vehicle away from his girlfriends.
One year, a male pheasant decided to make a wooden corner post in our cowyard his station. Since he was only yards from the house, we had to listen to his honking for hours every day. The honking sounds something like “Cooo-Kah!” The “Cooo” is long and low, and the “Kah!” breaks it off with this grating auditory screech. It is much like the sound your farm truck makes when you hit the breaks too hard. Now try listening to that sound every five minutes for hours.
Thankfully our calves found him to be a great source of entertainment. After a week of being chased and butted by baby calves he finally gave up and went away. He must have realized he’d have better chances of getting a date if he wasn’t in the middle of a bovine playground. It isn’t exactly a romantic atmosphere.