|Heavenly Russian Tumblers
and other friendly fowl at Firebird
|It starts in the morning, usually before dawn. Outside my bedroom window a rooster crows a handsome, loud crow. If he were a little larger, the ground would surely shake, just as his dinosaur relatives quaked the earth with their voices. If it's light enough, a shrill banty rooster voice answers. A few moments of silence, then from inside the house I hear a questioning, "Chirp? Chirp?" from the society finches, maybe a few "Beeps," from the zebbies. Then one of the male societies throws off the darkness, it's morning! and he begins to sing. I know all of my male societies by song; each one is a little different. Then the canary wakes up. After a couple of tweets, he goes into his full, sweet canary song. The birds are awake at my house.|
|Uzbekistan Tumbler, "Cloud", in the house|
|How did it ever grow to such epic proportions? It started with three little finches at Christmas 2003. The finches were to help ease the pain of losing Yankee and to give my daughter some birds to look at. Well, birds caught on like wildfire for both of us. We joined the local caged bird club soon after getting the zebbies. I was smart at first - all three of the Christmas zebra finches were MALES. I wanted NO BABY birds at the house. I just wanted a couple of cheerful little hopping birds to distract us.
Chickens came soon after. My mother had chickens when I was growing up, and I admit to warm memories of them. One day my daugher and I went up town on a cool February. There were baby chicks at the feed store. Rooster chicks were $.15. How could we go wrong? Besides, a little girl needed a little bird to hold. It wasn't like the finches were going to allow THAT.
One little rooster "pasted up" and didn't make it, but the other, an Ameraucana, thrived. We petted him and loved him and in his "chick" months he lived in my bathroom, until he got too big to live in his box and kept flying out. By then it was warmer, so he moved to the garage. He was getting handsomer and handsomer as he grew - a lovely cream colored cock with brown, orange, and black flecking, a green tail, yellow hackle and saddle feathers. He also grew meaner, until Natalya would have nothing to do with him. Bare hands and feet seemed to infuriate him and he would attack them with glee, clamping onto them with his sharp rooster beak. I had many "v" shaped marks on my hands and feet where he would fasten his beak onto my flesh.
"Fred-Spot," as he was known, was as full of character as he was orneriness. He would come when called and would also come into the house. He liked dusting in a hole in the front yard that the dogs had dug, but for some odd reason liked to clamp onto his wing with his beak when he did that, something I had never seen before on the folks' farm when I was a kid. He also had a leather glove he would chase like a dog.
Fred came to a bad end. Every day when I got home from work I would pick him up and carry him to the front yard and he would "fly" over the fence. He actually thought he could fly! Ha! Most large breed chickens can fly to a roost a couple feet off of the ground, but Fred had always fancied himself as a strong flier. I placed him up to the top of the 5 foot fence and he flew down. Five minutes later I looked out the window to enjoy the spectacle of my rooster strutting about or perhaps flopping in his dust hole and instead saw him in JR's large crocodilian mouth. It wasn't JR's fault. He'd been snoozing in some part of the yard when I got home, and I hadn't realized I'd locked him up front. When he woke up there was a beautiful present in the yard for him, and he did not waste time. I cried for two days over the loss of my beautiful, yellow hackled, mean rooster.
I begged my husband to let me have another "roaster" (a roaster is a rooster who is living on borrowed time
:-) ). As luck would have it, I found a note at the feed store from some people who wanted to give away their Ameraucana rooster. After a phone interview with the rooster's 9 year old owner, I became to proud owner of an as yet-unnamed 4 month old rooster. He was like a younger Fred, with yellow hackles and saddle feathers, and the rich orange markings on the wings, but instead of being cream with black and brown he was black with cream spots. Who knows, in some chicken-way, maybe he was Fred's brother out of a later hatch, as they had both came from Dunlap's Hatchery from the same stock.
"Diablo" (click here to see his handsome self) turned out to be every bit as mean as Fred but not as trusting; he would not come when called, for example. But still a beautiful bird with an awesome thundering crow. Every roaster deserves a harem, right? The spring after we got him, I bought him four Ameraucana hens and placed them in the newly built coop (Spring of 05). Natalya named all four girls immediately. All are different colored and all have their own chicken-personalities. All summer they provide us with LOTS of beautiful blue and green eggs. Big eggs, Delicious eggs. They were like the eggs of my childhood only somewhat Dr Suess-ish with their oddball coloring.
Unfortunately, a couple of months after I bought the chicken harem, we went back to the hatchery with a friend who was picking up some hens for her flock. I spotted some white crested black polish chickens and Natalya let out a squeal of delight. A funny chicken with a big Phyllis Diller hairdo could be hers for only $1. And she had brought a dollar!
The plan was to put her out with the other chickens. My mom had polish in with her mixed flock with no problems but my Ameraucana girls took one look at the funny chicken and chased her into the corner. I went out an hour later and she was still standing in the corner, so I took pity on her and brought her into the garage. She started laying a small, pointed white egg - which by now, I was too good for, after those huge blue eggs - and became Natalya's pet. As chickens go, she is somewhat of an eccentric. She does not cluck like a normal hen; instead she makes a little trilling sound. She cannot see well because her huge "wig" covers her eyes and she can only see straight down. Sometimes she pecks the air after things only she can see, or thinks she can see. Her bizarre appearance and odd antics made her the People's Choice at the 2005 Canyon County Fair. See July the Polish Chook here, winning Reserve Champion Junior Large Fowl at the Idaho Bird Breeder's show, November 2005. Unfortunately, July had several issues that I couldn't deal with, such as eating her eggs, flying up and bothering the pigeons, and just being a stupid chicken. July found a wonderful home with another 4-H kid, and with the prize money Natalya won and the $5 sale, she bought a show quality OEG hen in a unique color (mille fleur) that we named Dottie. Dots is extremely cute and tiny - about as big as the pigeons.
The other member of the chicken-family is an Old English Game (OEG) named Mick. Every fall the hatchery cleans out its stock of excess roosters, which are free to any taker. What do people do with all those roosters? They eat them, of course.
I took pity on the banties; who would want to eat such a miniscule bird? So I picked out one with the prettiest feathers and brought him home. His name would be Mick, after that ultimate bantam, Mick Jagger. Mick is absolutely the coolest chicken I have ever been around. He's a classically colored OEG: fire-red with a black breast. He's very sweet and can be picked up and carried at will. He eats wheat out of our hands and sometimes when the dogs are outside he can come in the house. He likes to fly in, and unlike Fred, he really CAN fly, being a banty and all. He is Natalya's showmanship bird for 4-H and tolerates all the fussing well. The only fault, if you can call it that, is that he is suspicious of strangers and will attack them. There's something sort of ridiculous about being attacked by such a tiny bird. I am sure he has grown a bit from the 4 month old cockerel we saved from the hatchet, but he is still small enough to wear a pigeon band on his leg.
My daughter, meanwhile, is intrigued with all this chicken-ness and has become obsessed with anything in the chicken family, more properly known as the Galliformes. (And she can tell you ALL ABOUT the birds in this family, too! Pheasants, turkeys, peafowl...you get the picture!). One day at the feed store (we have GOT to quit going in that store!), she sees an ad tacked to the bulletin board: For sale, Golden Pheasants, hens. I shrugged, but she CALLED the owner of the birds! This seven year old kid is calling a stranger on the phone. She wants to buy a pheasant.
Finally I get a pheasant run built, Fall of '05,(I am proud of my abilities with speed ties and deer netting, but my husband jeers at my craftsmanship). Some of the work I got for free by making friends who stayed at my house build a little door into the shelter part of the run. Finally we are ready to get our pheasant girl, who Natalya has already named Goldilocks.
How do pigeons come into the picture, you may ask. Good question, is my answer!
The boy who owns the pheasants is a somewhat serious teenager named Ethan. He lives on a huge cattle ranch and the birds belong to him. He has a giant covered run where the Golden Pheasants reside with various quail, wood ducks, doves, and of course, his beautiful pigeons. His pheasants are phenominal. I've never seen a pheasant that wasn't battering itself against the walls of something trying to escape, but his birds were right under his feet, scratching as contently as any pet hen.
I've never particularly wanted pigeons. My brother had pigeons when I was a little kid and I remembered petting them but other than that they didn't seem very interesting. But when we went to pick up Goldilocks I asked Ethan if he was selling any of the pigeons. They could live in the run with Goldie; why not? His pigeons were cool looking. I knew they were some sort of breed. I had asked him several times what they were - sometimes he said they were Russian Tumblers or sometimes he would say they were Pakistan Tumblers. After buying a pair, I inspected them closely. They were rather more dove sized than pigeon sized with a crest on the back of the head. One even had a swirl of feathers above its beak and little swirls above its eyes. Finally after emailing the pigeon club and going to the pigeon show we found out they were Uzbekistan Tumblers, a name given to smallish tumbling pigeons from a region in Russia. It made sense. The idea that they are Russian, like my dogs, appeals to me, and their extremely cute little baby doll faces and pretty colors are adorable. We are now up to 6 beautiful Uzbeks, all of different colors.
Our original pair can be seen in the run here, We love the pigeons more than I thought possible (I told the kid when we went to a pigeon show two years ago: "DON'T fall in love with those things! We are NOT getting any stinky pigeons!"). Of course, I can't even say, "We are not getting any MORE pigeons!" We somehow got hooked up with MORE pigeons at the 2006 Treasure Valley Pigeon Show. Honey is a beautiful West of England Tumbler who is very tame. Somehow Wests keep coming for me - so we got a beautiful black spread bird named Toast from a local breeder in April of '07. I am not sure the West of Englands are staying or not, but they sure are pretty with their elegant good looks. Of course, I have decided long ago that Wests only come in pairs or males because I have had a heck of a time getting out handsome boys wives.
Also, we had a TRIO of Golden Pheasants. Along with Goldie, we had a cock, Amen-Ra (still a teenager in this picture) and Amadala, a young hen. These beautiful birds were courtesy of Barney Lewis, Owyhee View Pheasants. Tragedy struck our beautiful, tame goldens the day after Labor Day 2006. A weasel or mink came and and slit their throats.They were very tame birds. All three would eat out of my hands, and one would jump in my lap. After crying for a couple of days, I decided I had to have more pheasants.
After weasel proofing the run (we didn't lose any birds except the goldens), Natalya and I brought home two Cochin banties as test birds (free banty roosters at the hatchery again!) to make sure the coop was safe. We ended up keeping one, "TwisterTester." Cochins are fat, chunky birds with feathered feet and gentle temperaments. Testerroaster went to live in the eastern part of the state with a whole flock of cochin girls at Tyhee Lofts. Twister is living in the big coop with Diablo and the harem now and seems to be getting along really well. By the way, I very much reccomend the Cochin breed for children. They seem to have gentleness bred in to them. Besides, they are hilraious when they run!
After a week in the weasel-proofed coop, we started over with two more Golden Pheasants. They are taming down nicely. I really love the Goldens for their gentleness and beauty. Below is a photo of my lovely cock, Rawnuts. You can see Sham, the hen, in the background.
|Back to finches!|
|Back to the dogs!|