For the Birds
When peacocks, pheasants, roosters, and bats take up residence in your living room, it’s no time to look a gift bird in the mouth.
By Mary Beth Crain
I have the odd distinction of having been chosen for impromptu visitations from the winged species.
It all began around five years ago in Los Angeles when, one surreal morning, I got out of bed and was headed for my shower when I saw four peacocks standing at my sliding glass doors, peering into my living room.
One peacock would have been a sight. Two would have been a phenomenon. But four was a veritable apparition.
Slowly and cautiously I opened the doors, which led out into my garden. The peacocks didn’t budge. I found myself the object of the admiring attention of eight beady eyes.
“Well, hello!” I said.
They continued to stare at me. It dawned on me that they were A) tame and B) hungry.
I went into the kitchen for some bread, leaving the sliding doors open. When I came back out, the peacocks had invited themselves into my living room and were marching around, shoulder-to-shoulder, checking things out. I had never in my entire life seen anything like it.
I threw breadcrumbs into the garden and they marched out, in stately procession. They ate slowly, and with a certain dignity. When they’d finished their snack, they settled themselves down among the roses like four statues, and apparently went to sleep.
Soon they were the talk of the entire neighborhood. They went from house to house, yard to yard, roof to roof.
“The peacocks were on my car the other day,” one neighbor would say.
“They were on my porch this morning,” another would reply.
“Did you see the peacocks today?” became the standard greeting on our street.
The question, of course, was where had they come from? It was the biggest mystery until somebody found out that the L.A. Arboretum, about 15 miles east of us, had a peacock preserve. They called the Arboretum and sure enough, peacocks were always flying the coop and surprised Angelenos were always calling to report sightings of the colorful renegades.
The nice thing was that, according to one of our Taiwanese neighbors, in Chinese culture the peacock is a symbol of good fortune. We all felt blessed whenever they came to our doors. They hung around for something like two years before moving on.
But peacocks, or at least their relatives, seemed to have my number. Last summer I moved to the tiny town of Hart, Michigan, to be near my brother and sister-in-law and help take care of my aging mother, whom we’d moved to a nursing home in Hart.
It was a warm afternoon and I’d left the door open. Suddenly I heard a long, loud “ERRRRR! ERRRRR!” There, standing with one foot outside and one foot inside my living room, was something that looked like a peacock but wasn’t. It had a long, thin neck, spindly legs, an iridescent glow, a red cockscomb, and a glittering green stripe on its tiny head.
“Want to come in?” I asked.
The bird took me up on my offer and was soon strutting around like he owned the place. My Chihuahua, Truman, stared at the unidentified flying object like I’d put acid in his dog food. The bird approached Truman, flapping its wings, and Truman practically sprouted wings himself, flying out of the living room, into the bedroom, and under the bed.
I called my sister-in-law.
“Hey, Deb, guess what? I’ve got this weird bird in my living room!”
“A bird? In your living room? What kind of bird?”
Just then the bird emitted its shrill, eerie “ERRRR! ERRRR!”
“That kind of bird,” I said. “Have you ever heard a call like that?”
“Never,” she replied. “What does it look like?”
I described it to her.
“I’ve never seen a bird like that,” she mused. “Only you could have one come to your front door and plant itself in your house!”
My penchant for inviting strays of any species into my home is a family joke. My late husband, who was an artist, once drew a cartoon showing him at our front door, with animals of every variety in two-by-two formation forming a line down the street. Two beavers were looking up at him. The caption read, “Mary Beth said it was OK!”
Finally the bird marched outside and made an inspection of my front yard. Then—oh oh!—it headed out into the street.
I ran after it and almost collided with Michael, the ten-year-old from next door.
“Hey, Michael,” I said. “Do you know anything about that bird?”
“Do I!” he yelled. “That’s Jacob’s pheasant!” And he ran after the bird and caught it.
I’d never heard of a Jacob’s Pheasant. It turned out, however, that it wasn’t a breed but a pet. It belonged to Michael’s friend Jacob, my tow-headed little neighbor a couple blocks down.
Interestingly enough, since a pheasant is a form of peacock, it seemed that good fortune was following me. At least that’s what my Taiwanese neighbors would say.
This promising message next took another, more unlikely form when, one winter evening, a greyish bird swept into my living room out of nowhere and flew so low it nearly grazed the top of my head. I screamed and waved my arms around, trying to ward it off, but back it came in another aerial attack, like a dive bomber. Then it headed into the dining room. I followed it but couldn’t find it anywhere. What the hell was it? And how the hell had it gotten into my house? It could have come down the chimney, but the fireplace had a glass enclosure that was shut tight. And in below zero weather, there weren’t any open doors or windows, believe me.
I told my sister-in-law about the incident. “That wasn’t a bird,” she said matter-of-factly. “It was a bat.”
“But it didn’t have bat wings or a bat face,” I protested. “It had a pointy head and the wings looked like bird wings.”
“Bats can make themselves look like that,” she explained. Being a veteran of the Michigan countryside for the last 30 years, she knew whereof she spoke. “We’ve had bats in our garage for years. And the fact that it seemed to disappear is even more proof. Bats can make themselves smaller than mice. All they need is a quarter-inch space to crawl into. You’ll probably never find it.”
“So what do I do now?” I asked, horrified. All I needed was to be bitten by a bat in the middle of the night and die from rabies.
“There’s not much you can do. It will probably starve itself to death, because they eat insects and there aren’t too many of those around at this time of year.”
Several neighbors gave me some curious advice.
“Keep a badminton racquet handy and the next time it flies past, just hit it like a shuttlecock. It will fall to the ground, stunned, and you can throw it outside.”
Somehow, the idea of arming myself with a badminton racquet day and night, like a sentry on 24-hour bat duty, didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
I wondered about killing it, but was informed by my neighbors that it’s actually illegal in these parts to kill bats because they dine on that peskiest of creatures, the mosquito.
The bat came back about a month later. It suddenly whizzed into the living room again, doing its strafing maneuver over my head. But this time it didn’t disappear. It flew around the house and I fled into my bedroom, locked the door and called my sister-in-law, hysterical.
“The bat’s back! It practically got me in the head!” I sobbed. “I’m hiding out in my bedroom!”
“Get a broom or something,” she suggested.
“No way! I’m not risking my life!”
“But you can’t stay in your bedroom forever!”
I stayed there a good long time, anyway. When I finally ventured out into the living room, the bat was still there. And then, before my astonished eyes, it flew toward the fireplace, shrank to the size of a quarter, and disappeared in a tiny fissure under the mantel.
Actually, I’m very glad I didn’t kill it, because when I Googled “Bats represent,” I made the astonishing discovery that in Chinese culture, bats, like peacocks, are symbols of prosperity, good fortune and long life. Who knew?
But the story doesn’t end here. Shortly afterwards I was awakened obscenely early on a Sunday morning by a loud crowing that sounded like it was in my yard. I stumbled out of bed and into the living room where, peering through the glass door, was a gorgeous rooster, with creamy blonde feathers and a blazing red comb.
I opened the door and it stood there, staring up at me and crowing for all it was worth. It seemed to have a message for me.
I fed it bread and then, instead of going back to bed, went to my computer and Googled “Rooster symbology.” Sure enough, in Native American culture, the rooster is a messenger, who comes to announce hope and the dawning of a new life.
Now, after having lived in L.A. for 30 years, my move to Michigan had been anything but easy. I desperately missed my friends and my exciting West Coast life. In Hart, everything closes at 4 p.m. and they’ve never even heard of sushi.
The rooster, however, was an encouraging omen. I was certain that my husband, who died ten years ago and always seems to be watching over me, had sent him, to remind me that a new road always has its share of bumps and not to give up hope.
I got up and went back to the front door. The rooster had disappeared. Somehow I knew it wouldn’t be back. It had delivered its message. And in truth, I never saw it again.
The happy epilogue to all of this is that I’ve been in Hart almost a year now and things have turned out all right after all. I got a great consulting job. I’ve become the star columnist for the local county newspaper. My picture is up all over town, I’ve made lots of new friends, and have found my place in the world again.
Did my winged messengers truly foretell my future? Who can say? All I know is, mythology and destiny seem to have met and shaken hands at the crossroads of my new life.
So, the next time a feathered friend pays you a visit, be polite. Invite it in, and listen to what it has to say. It just might know something you don’t.
Comment on this article here.
Senior editor Mary Beth Crain’s last piece for SoMA was A Tisket, a Tasket, a Black and Yellow Casket … End Table, That Is.
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