15 Apr 2009

Sex on Two Wings


Not a very pretty sky today, but still, that crow is a sure sign of spring. It flew to the tree carrying a big stick in its beak, which it promptly dropped whilst I went to grab the camera. Birds are so uncooperative when it comes to photos. I took the shot anyway, because my friend, Cathy, loves pictures of crows, and crows with sticks mean nest building, and that means it’s officially spring.

There have been other birdy signs as well. The farmer down the lane, Simon, trimmed the hedgerows of his field last week, flushing a harem of pheasant hens from the woods in the process. I’m sure there’s a proper name for a group of pheasants (covey, pehaps?) but I always think of groups of pheasant females as harems. The males put the call out this time of year, making a sound somewhere between a turkey gobble and a rusty gate, which the females follow. The male collects a half a dozen or so females, or more, I’m sure, if he can get them, and then passes along his genes in the time honored fashion. What is that, if not a harem?

We had a male pheasant in the garden on Mayday, a couple of years ago. It making quite a racket, the strange cry punctuated with a frantic beating of wings, and it took us a while to figure out the source of the noise. Once we did, we opened the back door very carefully, and tip-toed our way into the garden, armed with a camera and bread crumbs, hoping to convince him to stay. He not only stayed, he made clucking noises, like a chicken, while he snacked, and thoughtfully posed for pictures. He must have been hand-reared, he was so tame, and though he wouldn’t eat from our hands, he did get very close.


This close. Such a gorgeous shade of russet, we named him Rusty, as much for the sound he makes, as his color. We never fed him again, knowing that if he was hand-reared, it was a for a specific purpose, and one probably involving firearms and a recipe served “under glass”. Once we’d named him, we decided it would be a good idea if he learned not to be so very trusting of humans. Since that Mayday in the garden, all male pheasants, the ones we see, and the ones we only hear, off in the distant woods, are Rusty.

The other returning bird friend this year is Don, named for the Quixote who tilted at windmills. Our Don is a little testosterone fueled Great Tit; a fast mover, camera shy and so stupid, he flies at his own reflection in the windows thinking, presumably, it’s another male. He woke us one morning, last spring, pecking at the bedroom window, and repeated the performance over many weeks, at various windows of the house.

Apparently, Don’s back (it has to be the same one, as I can’t imagine two Tits this incredibly dumb), though he seems to be favoring the garage windows instead this year, poor dear. Unless he figures it out soon, it doesn’t seem likely he’ll be adding to the local gene pool. Probably a mercy, that.

All in all, it seems to be quite a heavily-sexed little valley we’re living in, this time of year. But don’t take my word for it. Please, listen for yourself.

Posted on April 15, in Blog


  1. Love the audio. Two weeks ago I audio recorded the peepers on the first night I heard them and hope to blog it soon.
    I am a new listener to your podcast and want to say thank you. You have a fantastic voice and your podcast has great content and is high quality production. Thank you so much!
    I spent 8 hours gardening a couple of weeks ago and your podcast kept me company #77. Thanks again.

    Posted on 4.15.09 ·
  2. Cindy wrote:

    A group of pheasants is called a nest, nide/nye (a large group), brood (a family) or bouquet. A group of quail is called a covey. Yes, I am a girl geek.

    I do empathize with the dreaded constant chirp–our chickens kept me up all hours when we first got them as adorable baby chicks…that’s why they make them cute, so you will be less tempted to kill them.

    Posted on 4.15.09 ·
  3. Jennifer wrote:

    I think I may have your Tit beat. Two years ago, we had a crazed male cardinal who attacked his reflection in our living room window for weeks on end. Annoying, but also rather endearing. He was so protective of his turf. Then, late last spring, an Oriole took to pecking away at his handsome reflection in the same window. With a tripod and a saintly load of patience, my husband finally captured him on film. We didn’t record his song, though, which was lovely. This year we don’t have a permanent male visitor yet, but there is a particularly large and dumb male robin who pecks at various windows of the house at regular intervals. I’m waiting for a Bluebird!

    Posted on 4.16.09 ·
  4. Lies wrote:

    Heh. We nickname all male pheasants Carl. And I don’t remember where it came from. I once saw one of the females cross the bike path, followed by a swarm of striped chicks. They are lovely! Though they harvest the potatoes in my garden long before we get the chance.

    Posted on 4.16.09 ·
  5. (it has to be the same one, as I can’t imagine two Tits this incredibly dumb)

    Are you sure? Because Paris Hilton probably also looks at her reflection in a window and…. Just kidding. I love watching and listening to the birds this time of year, and knowing that the GIANT bumblebees are out and about (and causing pollensplosions on my windows when they are in the process of relearning what the glass means) and foraging makes me sure spring is here to stay.

    Posted on 4.16.09 ·
  6. Linda wrote:

    Now….Brenda….being that I am a birder and being that I absolutely LOVE the sound of birds day and night……I must give you some advice on getting rid of unwanted birds. In the spring and fall, here in the southeast corner of Colorado, we have been known to get 200 to 300+ Grackles who invade my farm yard and eat up all of the food that I put out for the Sparrows. I don’t have to worry about my reputation way out here in the country where the closest neighbor lives a half mile away. I have been known to grab my nicest cooking pot and one of my heavy, wooden, spoons and BURST out the door banging on my pot and screaming at the top of my lungs. IT WORKS. It works on the big birds but I can’t guarantee that it will work for your little, tiny, adorable, singing……sweet, horny little bird. Let me know.

    Posted on 4.17.09 ·
  7. Audrey wrote:

    Poor birdie! Obviously he’s not getting very lucky if he spends all his time on your roof. Or perhaps your house is THE happening place in town and all the birds of his kind take a turn advertising on top of your roof. I think he sounds lovely and he’s beautiful, bus as you say, I don’t have to live with him. You could always felt him a friend, maybe he’d change his record once in a while 😉 Happy spring!

    Posted on 4.17.09 ·
  8. Sandy wrote:

    Lovely bird songs, but I can certainly sympathize with the tedium of the endless serenade. At present, we have a frog symphony every afternoon and evening, but it is rather short-lived….only a few weeks.

    Woodpeckers are also incredibly stupid. At our last home, finished with cedar siding, there was one particular bird that seemed to think that there was food to be had on the side of the house. Of course, it was the wall that the head of our bed was on, and he was a very, very early riser. We are not. It could have been worse though. Currently, we have a woodpecker enamoured with the radio tower on the side of the house. I’d much prefer listening to endless singing than the pings of him drilling into the metal.

    Posted on 4.18.09 ·
  9. Vikki Cates wrote:

    Dear Brenda,
    I was feeling a bit blue and decided to see if there was a new podcast. This little tidbit cheered me up and your voice lowered my blood pressure. You helped me remember, yes it is Spring and love is in the air.

    Posted on 4.19.09 ·
  10. Monica wrote:

    LOL….we have a feeder in our backyard which attracts a bunch of birds, and some of them are the sweet red and blue Crimson Rosellas. With incredible imagination and flair, we called our first Crimson Rosella visitor “Rosie”, and thereafter all adult rosellas coming by to stuff themselves at our little seed smorgasbord have henceforth been affectionately referred to as Rosie. Hehe!

    Posted on 4.21.09 ·

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