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Fledgling Magpie

A fledgling Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia [Melanie Shaw])

Large Birds at DragonGoose Farm

Joan Katherine Shaw

The Magpie

Let's start off with the sole noticeable bird at this farm at the time we moved here forty-three years ago -- the magpie, a member of the Corvid family, otherwise known as the clowns of the bird tribe. It's a flashy bird with a terrifically long tail, and unafraid of anything, even people, but especially of cats and the aloof, elegant, and much larger, imported peacocks, raised for several years by our neighboring doctor.

I understand that the magpie has been hanging around the RockyMountain states from New Mexico in the south up to Manitoba in Canada and as far east as Minnesota and Iowa since before the last ice age. It's notable for its incessant  yak-yak-yakking to no obvious purpose which was especially aggravating at the crack of dawn when we were trying to sleep. Nowadays, a lot of what they're doing is deviling the resident cats who act as our vole controllers in the orchards.

For several years running, a certain one of the magpies picked on a black cat, now spayed, that had moved into the lean-to garage on the granary. The big bird followed her around and occasionally ran at her. But this was years after we'd first moved in.

At first the magpies just paraded around yakking. Now that we have forested this place with tall shade trees and berry-filled shrubs, roses, nut trees, lilacs, and so on, we have a much wider variety of song birds, and they give the big magpies some competition. There's nothing like a swarm of attacking small Brewer's Black birds, defending nests of baby birds, to give the larger magpies second thoughts about hanging around.

We have friends who thoroughly dislike the magpies who crowd out the smaller birds at the feeding stations and bully them away from the suet bar feeders, but we've noticed here that the big black and white birds give up after a while, and by now, forty-some years later, they are truly outnumbered. They do love the suet and can make short work of an entire bar unless chased off by the smaller birds.

I've not only come to terms with this bird who looks so majestic soaring across the windows of the back porch with their wide wings and bold plumage. And the sound of yakking in the morning now fills me with a sort of nostalgia for the years when the children were young and we were struggling to make a garden of the place. We had at that time, see,
exactly three trees and on the nothernmost edge of the place, a line of dying Lombardy Poplars, an aphid-infested snowball bush, and some ancient granny iris.

Not too many years after having only the magpies to seranade us, a pair of crows moved in, and believe me, their raucous cawing is a lot more grating than the yak-yak-yaking of the magpies.

The Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos
[Melanie Shaw])

PensisveCrow, alkingThe crow is in the same Corvid family as the Magpie, along with the equally black Raven for which it is sometimes mistaken. The Ravens, though, are much bigger and have a lower pitch, sort of gargling call. Their tails are v-shaped rather than fan-shaped at the end (as are crows) while in flight and, overall, appear to me to be scruffier looking. Also, so far they haven't yet graced us with their presence.

Another thing is that Ravens are included in song birds which not allowed to be hunted, where Crows can be shot with impunity. Perhaps it's because crows will eat anything that's not nailed down, and they really do like corn. And perhaps there are more than enough of them. I discovered this hunting fact when reading through a wildlife site on which one hunter asked if it's permissible to shoot crows in Utah. Guys shoot crows for sport? I asked my husband, Alan. It seemed to me a bit weird. I can see shooting birds that cause trouble to farmers or sheepmen, because they can really bother the stock, especially newborn lambs. I asked Alan if he'd ever "eaten crow", but he claimed they were so inedible as to curl his beard.

Crows breed in Canada and are moderately common in Utah as a breeder during summer, but much more abundant in Utah during the winter
(State of Utah, Natural Resources), although we seldom see (or hear) them during the winter here at the farm. Alan explained further that shooting crows wasn't like shooting pheasants, that it was more like getting rid of pests. There were times in his youth, he said, when they were given a bounty for each one they hauled into the ag office.

Come to think of it, I imagine that they'd go after kittens, too -- small animals are included in their regular diet. And in spite of our efforts to spay or neuter any stray cat that comes up here to settle down, we do have the occasional clutch of kittens. Melanie said that mother cats, though, are fairly ferocious in defending their kittens, so I shouldn't worry.

Raven Calling Here's a photo of a raven, by the way. It's a heavy bird and looks lower down than the crow when it walks. Goodness, isn't it an ugly bird; it looks like a very mad old man in a very big snit, like something out of a Harry Potter fantasy.

Quite a bit prettier are the wild turkeys that have a trail through here at certain times of day, mostly in the morning.
These appeared when Utah's Fish and Game people started repopulating the state with wild turkeys and they seem to have made this place one grazing stop on their way along the Cub River farms.

(Raven from: Nature Mapping Washington State)

The Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami (
[specific to Cache Valle]
Melanie Shaw )
Turkey hen with family

Melanie caught this family scene with her camera one cloudy morning. How soft the little poults look, both hen and poults apparently unafraid of either Melanie or the camera. They must know this is a safe place, even with the cats peering down at them from only a few feet away in the trees.

There are two species of wild turkeys in the western hemisphere – the Meleagris gallopavo and the Melgeagris ocellata, the latter found only in Central America.

The Meleagris gallopavo, in turn, is divided into five subspecies, of which the M. gallopavo merriami is the subspecies introduced throughout the Intermountain West in the mid 1900s. In this habitat,familiar to that in which this subspecies evolved over many centuries, the annual rainfall averages between 15 and 23 inches. The area has brushy flatland and brushy, lightly forested foothills and, where this habitat is not disrupted by logging, the birds do very well.

The four other subspecies have been reintroduced throughout the country, including the northeast where the wild turkeys (M. Gallopavo silvestris), were found by the pilgrims in1620. By 1900, these native birds had been hunted almost to extinction. This fact most likely led to the belief among many hunters and wildlife managers that turkeys were never present in the eastern part of the United States, nor perhaps in any part of the United States.

But, in fact, after recent DNA studies of ancient turkey remains (bones and droppings) by the University of Washington, the University of British Columbia, and other groups, there is solid evidence that Native Americans first tamed turkeys 2,000 years ago. Also, the turkeys we eat today may have descended from breeds raised by the Aztecs and earlier ancient Mexicans and taken back home by the Spanish explorers in the 1500s. These birds, the theory goes, became popular in Europe, and were exported back to the United States. Moreover, the Aztec domestic turkey was most likely bred from Melgeagris gallopavo gallopavo, the subspecies of wild turkey once native to Mexico.

ut the researchers say there is much more testing of wild, museum, and archeological samples before all the gaps can be filled in and the story of domestication by the Native Americans of wild turkeys can be completely clarified.

We do know they were living wild in the New England area in 1620. William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation writes in his notes on the Pilgrims' first thanksgiving in the autumn of 1621, that the Pilgrims went out with their guns and came back with, among other things, a “great store of wild turkeys” for the winter. But I also wondered what the Native Americans thought about that. The turkeys' biggest attraction for the Native Americans were their feathers as adornment and were their first interest in the birds, rather than the meat. I hope that among the bags of dead turkeys the Native Americans were able to extract a few bags of feathers for themselves.

Back to our lovely visiting hen and her poults – we’re assuming that she comes here from her nesting area in the foothills or close by in the river bottom, the poults trailing behind her. By this time they’re full grown, and search with the hen through the bushes and along the ground for berries and insects and perhaps small rodents, garden snakes, and snails, oblivious of the cats watching them curiously from up in the trees and the porch roof. We have a gallumping black lab in the neighborhood that occasionally gets loose and comes up to visit, but by the time she appears, heralded by her happy barking, the turkeys are up in the trees along with the cats.

The Ring-neck Pheasant (
Phasianus colchicus [Photo: Melanie Shaw])

Pheasant during
          fall on driveOriginating in the former Soviet Union country, Georgia, pheasants  of various species are now common worldwide. They were introuced in this country in 1857 and are now well established in the Rocky Mountain states. We look forward to hearing their calls in the autumn or whenever they're startled by something. I once mistook the sound of a weed whacker starting up as a startled pheasant. What clued me into the weeder was the sound repeating itself over and over -- it was one of our workers trying to get a recalcitrant weed whacker to start. So that might clue you into the sound of a pheasant, alarmed.

We look forward to seeing them trailing through the flower beds searching out
bugs, berries, small animals like garden snakes, lizards, voles and field mice. I, specifically, am always hoping that the one I see will escape the hunter's shot gun. The season starts here in early November and I think we see more in the garden, orchard, and fields up here at that time because of the birds seeking somewhere less echoing with bird shot. The birds are sleek, especially the hens, and weigh in the neighborhood of 2.5 pounds (coqs) and 2.0 pounds (hens).

When we moved here in the late sixties, pheasants were said to be fairly plentiful, but valley development which mushroomed in the last decades has taken up quite a bit of their habitat.

Melanie remembered eating pheasant when she was a young girl. Her Dad shot a couple out in our hay field. Alan, gave me the recipe which was his father's -- He fileted the meat off the bones and skin, dipped the pieces into seasoned flour and sauteed them in a frying pan. Melanie and her Dad both praised the taste to high heaven. I don't remember it at all which really aggravated me. I would like that memory.

Hunting these birds is an expensive sport, incidentally, considering the need for a good, usually expensive, retreiver, beaters to flush the birds, the distance traveled to find a good hunting spot, and often the price of getting on private land set aside for members' hunting rights.

There were quail, in season at about the same time as phseasants' season here in the valley. There were also, chukars and Hungarian partridges in the foothills, but we haven't seen any of these three birds on the farm.

As to the smaller birds here -- and Melanie has some wonderful small bird photos -- I'll leave the description of them to a later page.

Until then,

Joan Katherine Shaw
January 2012

Photos - Melanie Shaw
Research on wild turkeys - Melanie Shaw

More on Apples:
DragonGoose Orchard Update

Cold Country Apples
A List of Apples growing thus far on DragonGoose Farm (fairly out of date for DragonGoose Farm, but interesting in an antique sort of way)

Back to: A Rose by Any Name –  The Little-Known Lore and Deep-Rooted History of Rose Names

Cottage Gardens with Roses
Cottage Gardens – not as easy as they look

Sources for Books mentioned in A Rose by Any Name:
The Graham Stuart ThomasRose Book
Classic Roses by Peter Beales

Some on-line sources for roses:
Arena Rose Company
David Austin Roses Limited
High Country Roses
Jackson and Perkins
Roses of Yesterday and Today
Vintage Gardens (a source of more than 3,000 different varieties of roses)
Wayside Gardens, South Carolina
White Flower Farm 

More on roses:
Roses After Christmas
A Miniature Rose Garden in Utah
Cascading Roses
Cottage Gardens: Not as easy as they look
Cottage Gardens with Roses
Dreaming of Roses
Old White Roses
Prolific Climbing Roses for the North
Roses in Sunset Colors
Roses of the Middle East
Some Tough but Elegant Roses
The Charm of Single Roses
Three Favorite Roses

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