About 10 minutes down the road from me is a field that is surrounded by corn fields, dairy farms and suburban neighborhoods. This sizable tract of land is covered by a patchwork of hayfields, grain patches, high grass and brush, small stands of trees, puddles and even a streamlet. The owner stocks this area with game birds. It provides hunters with access to pheasant, quail and partridge. Where I live there is an abundance of turkey and duck that move respectively through wood and pond at will. With respect to other bird life, the air is full of hawks and even bald eagle. At night, a particularly annoying Barred Owl often serenades me and Camera Girl at about 1:45 a.m. from a perch seemingly right outside my bedroom window. Only state firearm ordinances and my inherent laziness has saved this avian jerk from reaping the large caliber comeuppance he so richly deserves. During the day the bird song is much more melodious. Finches, robins, sparrows, titmice, jays, catbirds, cardinals and orioles abound. And for viewing interest there are the fascinating hummingbirds. Basically we’re flush with feathered friends.
So why would I be looking to add to their numbers? The answer is ticks. Connecticut is the Lyme disease capitol of the Universe. Apparently scenic Lyme Connecticut was so inviting that even the lowly spirochete responsible for this malady heard how great it is there and decided to immigrate. Having been blessed once with the honor of sharing my bloodstream with these delightful one celled creatures I have made it a high priority to pass on a second such honor. To this end I have devoted a certain amount of thought to lowering the local tick population. One thing the long-time inhabitants of the area told me was that chickens eat ticks. That pecking action they’re so famous for allows them to systematically ingest enormous numbers of small creatures including ticks. This seemed to me a great idea. Chickens! I mean, I like chicken. Fried, baked, souped, casseroled. I even like them before they are hatched. Why not bring them in and let them solve my problem. I did some research.
- They need a house. Well, okay, why not. I’ll buy them a house.
- They need to be fed and watered. Hmmm, that’s a lot of doing stuff.
- They get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning. On Saturday? What the hell is wrong with them. They sounded a lot like that jerk the Barred Owl.
- Their house has to be cleaned a lot. Okay, that’s enough.
The cure was worse than the disease.
I returned to my research and looked into what else eats ticks. Other birds eat ticks. Yeah, well we’re flush with birds already and they’re not getting the job done. It turns out that some birds are better at it than others. And even if chickens were too much trouble there are birds sort of like chickens that also eat a lot of ticks. I went through the options and the one with the least maintenance was quail. They’re smaller than pheasants and guinea fowl and peacocks and with just a little help from me they might successfully acclimate to my property and be fruitful and multiply. This all sounded really good. Next step get quail. I went out next day intending to stop by the local quail store and pick up a couple of dozen before heading to the town apothecary and pick up my monthly assortment of leeches. One solid month of following up leads and I found a friendly regional quail guy. Negotiations were negotiated and basically, I acceded to all terms. Which unfortunately meant that the quails would arrive on a day that I was at work (Friday). No need for panic. Camera Girl would carry out the transaction and the quails would become part of Orion’s Cold Fire Enterprises with all the rights and responsibilities that entails (eat ticks). When the appointed hour arrived, I sat at work waiting with bated breath to get the victory message. “Houston, the Eagle has landed.”
The actual call went slightly differently. When Camera Girl called up I could tell there had been a hitch. Quail come packed in a plastic box that basically keeps them in a standing room only enclosure. Apparently packing them cheek to jowl keeps them from getting too stirred up. But it also means they are anxious to spread out. When Camera Girl opened the box door the quail flew out in much the way shaken soda escapes from a bottle, rapidly and straight up. After the mass of panicked birds departed into the stratosphere and she had stopped blinking in amazement Camera Girl noticed that one bird had remained. This was the silver lining that was presented to me at the end of the story. Being a glass half empty kind of guy, I speculated that it probably broke a wing during the melee. But, being a fair and even-tempered individual, I thanked her for her help in the event told her I’d be following this lone bird’s future career with great interest. At that point I wrote off the whole thing as a good learning experience, namely that I’d learned that all birds are jerks.
On Saturday morning during our weekly inspection tour of the south forty, Camera Girl was excited to point out that there were now at least two quail skulking around the perimeter of the property. I should explain that part of the preparations for “Operation Shoot a Bunch of Money into the Sky” was the purchase of what is called a quail field base which consists of a device that provides food and water to quails in your field along with a battery powered electronic quail call that summons the quail to the base. Even though we only knew of one quail remaining in the immediate neighborhood of the base I activated the quail call. Every thirty minutes during daylight hours, this call produces a really goofy sounding bird noise which is supposed to lead the quails home to the base.
Well I guess it works. At least one and possibly several quails are now roaming around my fields and the surrounding woods. As the kids would say I’m mightily chuffed. So, Saturday as I was taking close up shots of caterpillars and plants I was able to get close enough to one quail ambling around in the brush to take his photo that I’ve attached above. The jury is of course still out but it’s entirely possible that maybe not all birds are jerks.