My So-Called Gentleman Caller

A ring-necked pheasant has taken to paying court every morning, every evening, and a few times in between breakfast and dinner as well. I wish he were coming to see me. I wish he even knew I existed. Being a realist, I am aware that he only comes around to see what’s tumbled out of my birdfeeders--and when the pileated woodpecker has visited, that’s a lot of seeds. I have never seen a messier eater than the woodpecker. Being a romantic, I am besotted.

I have never had a pheasant in my life before. He announces his arrival with a creaking call that sounds like an old door on rusty hinges. He’ll stretch onto his toes, swell his russet chest, flap his wings, and let everyone know he is in the neighborhood. The doves ignore him, the finches don't want to lose their places in line, the cardinals are unconcerned. No one seems to care but me, but oh how I care! I drop everything, and creep to the window to watch him.

The pheasant never rushes, except when he is pecking full throttle at the ground. He struts at a regal pace. His tribe was imported to our country from China, so perhaps his noble demeanor is bred in the hollow bone. He even manages a slow hop on to the edge of the stone birdbath, where he fills his beak with water, and lifts his head to let it stream down his throat. I am quite certain that if he knew I were watching he would be prolonging this choreography just to let me admire his distinguished crimson jowls, his adorable teal ear tufts, his elegant pearl choker, his dotted shoulders and his striated tail plumes. But like I said, he doesn’t even know I exist. He probably thinks bird feeders grow on trees.

He is gorgeously feathered and he knows that, of course. All handsome types tend to know it. So I think he is probably conceited. But underneath that suave, devil-may-care exterior is a vulnerable soul--I just know it. And this knowledge has made me vulnerable. I suffer. I worry about him all the time. If I haven’t heard that door creak in a while, I wonder what’s become of him? No good will come of such strutting of stuff. Someone is going to get hurt. And all I’ll have left is a handful of feathers, and the memories. Is this what happens when you fall in love with a dandy?


SweetRetreat said...

Oh my, what a handsome lad. I do wish I had such a visitor to my birdbath. Birdbaths are endless joy, soothing to the soul. I just feel the bliss - splashing and slurping (yes the do both, not fussy). What a wonderful post, wonderful blog.

Deana Sidney said...

I love those encounters, don't you? The perceived disdain is charming... do they care? I always wonder.
I had one remarkable gentleman caller in my Brooklyn garden one winter.... a gigantic owl. I tried to take a picture out my study window but he was too far and he was after all a brown bird in brown branches so I tip toed outside to get a better shot. To my horror a piece of bubble wrap from a recent move was under the snow and went off like a gun shot... so did my caller. I was devastated. I hope yours stays and continues to give you joy. He is a magnificent bird.

Cristina said...

fantastic post, thank you!
as for all that free wandering in your gorgeous garden, I gather you don't have any dogs &/or cats, do you?!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

A pheasant such as this once proudly crossed a country lane in front of me just outside Ipswich, Mass. Being from the south, I had never seen such a sight and was completely dumbstruck by the beauty of it. To see one at my birdbath would be almost too much to take in! Lucky girl.

Donna said...

But many of your birds do know you.

A Stellar Jay once had an entire conversation with me explaining his preference for almonds over pecans. He showed me that almonds, because of their shape, fit down his throat much more comfortably than pecans.

My Chickadees flutter in front of my windows at eye level to let me know they would love a nugget of gold (aka Costco pinenuts).

And, just yesterday, a stubborn Western Tanager perched on my window crossbars and tapped the window until I refilled his grape jelly feeder.

BTW, I'm so glad you're here blogging. I was crushed when my monthly delight, House & Garden, suddenly stopped publishing. Nothing compares.

Julie said...

Earlier this spring, we had a pheasant in our yard. He shocked my dog and me when he launched himself off the top of our recycle bin and flew across the yard after I had opened the patio door to let the dog out.

This is only the second time I have seen a pheasant in town (Bismarck, ND). The first time was when I was taking my grade-school-age daughter to the dentist. The pheasant was right downtown. Kristen worried about him, too! She made me call the Game & Fish Dept. to see if they would "pick him up before he got run over".

PS - I just finished your book. Every chapter was pure delight. I, too, lost my job - two years ago - and now am facing age discrimination. (I am almost 61.)

Darci said...

I love how much you love him. I get a loudmouthed murder of crows in my yard. They stage daily debates about the pros and cons of the current Administration. Or vote on who's got the shiniest gee-gaws… it could go either way, really.

I echo Donna's sentiments – your editors letter was the first thing I read in H&G and I'm glad to read your thoughts more frequently now. It's the first blog I read with my morning coffee. :)

Layanee said...

He is a handsome creature. I wonder where his hen is hiding...oh, behind the curtain. Don't give your heart to a dandy and never get involved with someone prettier than oneself. It always ends badly.

mary said...

Such beauty--I think he is one of those amazing God Gifts that make you sit up, take notice and give thanks. Mary

Judith Ross said...

He is a beauty. This does bring to mind the first year in our house. We'd been there almost a year when I suddenly became a 39-year old mother dealing with a cancer diagnosis. One day, while waiting for a test result, I saw the pheasant for the first time. I took it as a sign that all would be well. Another day that spring I watched my then 10-year old son follow the pheasant around the yard. Son is turning 27 on Monday -- and we all will be marking his birthday in good health. I was right, that pheasant was a good omen.

Anonymous said...

I live on the West coast of Scotland, where pheasants are relatively common in the countryside. One used to visit my suburban garden, I suspect regularly. One day, working at home, and sitting at a table facing the french doors to the garden, I watched as he made his way down the split-level garden, over the gravel, up to the patio, up the last step - to stand with his nose against the window talking to my elderly black labrador who also pressed her nose against the window! After perhaps a minute, he did the journey in reverse and off through the trees. Beautiful moments.

One Woman's Journey - a journal being written from Woodhaven - her cottage in the woods. said...

Oh my - how I love your writing.
I know you are talking about your pheasant visitor - but you also described some male suitors of mine in the years past.

William said...


Clearly it's time for you to read anew SLOW LOVE - you are falling back into old habits. A devil-may-care exterior may signal a vulnerable soul - although it's more likely to signal 'just another asshole'.

Nice looking bird, though.


Rhoda @ Southern Hospitality said...

Hi Dominique! I'm doing a book review on your book today. Thoroughly loved it by the way. You're a wonderful writer & I was pulled right into your story. Thanks for sharing it. I know my readers will enjoy the book too. Your blog is beautiful too, so glad you are still writing.


trafkin said...

I truly can understand your felling for him. I live in Belgium and we are graced by a pair of pheasants ( male and female) that tend to nest in the high grassy field next to our garden.They tend to fill my morning coffee routine with joy as I look out our windows and see them.

I worry about them every year when the farmer next to us bales the grasses and when hunting season begins.I am actually planning my garden design to include some high grass areas with the hopes that they will grace us with their presence and next year nest in our garden.

dterrydraw said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

Thank you, once again, for a lovely and evocative posting (which has, obviously, spurred some equally fine responses...I like reading this blog).

Not to be more than usually bossy in promulgating my own particular tastes and preferences, but?....anyone who enjoyed this posting of yours ( or just birds-in-general, for that matter) should dig under the couch cushions, find themselves 99 cents, and download the following, completely lovely&wise song (by Jennifer Warnes, from her 2001 album "The Well").

go to:

Oh....the lyrics are:

"Yesterday I thought that I walked alone
And that love was just a memory
But a nightingale
Followed me back home
Where my love was
Waiting there for me

I have lost my faith as lovers often do,
When the storm clouds gather overhead,
But a nightingale sang a note so true
That I knew I'd lost my fear instead

And to think that I said
Love was for fools
And that time would never heal
These old wounds
But the nightingale saved a prayer for me

In the twilight, he played a faithful tune

I have heard the lark over the vale
And I've heard the lonesome whippoorwill
But the sweetest song is the nightingale's
And I know I'll never get my fill

And to think that I've said love was for fools, and that time would never heal these old wounds
But the nightingale saved a prayer for me
In the twilight, he played a faithful tune

Quite sincerely, and thanks for your good writing,

David Terry

dterrydraw said...

P.S.....I might as well be honest (10 hours later).

I was VERY glad that, before hitting "send" on that previous posting of mine from this morning, I copied it into an email and ran a quick check on it......which revealed to me that I'd was just about to publish the phrase "Not to be more than usually bossy in promulgating my own particular testes...."

I'm so glad I didn't do that, but I might as well admit that I almost did...which wouldn't have added much "tone" to Ms. Browning's blog.

Abashedly as ever,

David Terry

Dominique said...

Gee, I don't know, Not-so-Rev Terry, I think that tone might have been perfect! William, not to worry about me falling for trouble (though thank you, very gallant of you) I'm going to have that bird eating out of my hand in short order--Perry Guillot, who has a pheasant in his garden on Long Island, tells me he feeds his (named Homer) cracked corn. So I'll just make a quick trip to the feed store, after I get back from my Western travels...Scotland is a place I have always wanted to see, and I can just imagine the encounter between lab and bird....and an owl in Brooklyn! I am hoping to see owls someday...I never do, though once I heard, late at night, a convocation of owls hooting in the trees...still laughing, though, about that darn bubble wrap.

William said...


Not every encounter between lab and bird is so sweet as the one from the Scotland story. My lab, now close to 4, has been fascinated by both pigeons and squirrels in the park since he was a puppy. I managed to train him away from the pigeons, or so I thought. Maybe he just trained himself away from them because they always fly away and he has figured out he doesn't stand a chance. He seemed to forget about pigeons. Squirrels, forget it - he'll be all over them for his forever. One day, several months back on a leisurely walk along Poet's Walk in the park - I wasn't feeling 'on guard' at all - we passed by a trash can and out from the side of the trash can stepped a pigeon. Next thing I knew, my dog was proudly carrying a very shocked pigeon in his mouth. They were both shocked, I think. Then I was thinking - oh f**k what do I do now? Of course it caught attention and people were looking and laughing - and some were cheering my dog on. My hypochondrical self immediately went to the thought of possible diseases I could get from birds if I touched it. Well, I threw caution to the wind and I grabbed it out of his mouth and spearated the two. The poor pigeon, shocked, stumbled away. Mild scoldings followed, I mean what could I say - he was being a dog. I just wish there had been a window between the two.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Oh pheasants are such wonderful creatures! There are several in the fields near where I work. They're lazy birds, they don't like to fly but prefer to wander the fields showing off their feathers.

I'm glad to have discovered your blog too, its a lovely place!

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