I’d just seen a bird hit my neighbors’ window. And hard! So hard in fact it appeared that—as if by an occult hand—the chicken-sized animal had been plucked from the heavens and tossed around like some vivid marble. But I’ll give whatever capricious god played with this animal his or her due, because what a bird it was. It’s feathers were a kaleidoscope of pigments that ended in an elongated red tail. It looked like no fowl I had ever seen. And as I marveled at the discombobulated ornithological wonder from my bedroom window this past Sunday, I had to ask myself, “What-in-the-fucking-hell-kinda-funky-ass critter is this?” As of yesterday afternoon, I got my answer.
My mystery bird was a golden pheasant, an
invasive "exotic" species native to China, and probably somebody’s exotic pet. (This is not to be confused with the much less dapper common pheasant, also a Chinese native, but now super-abundant in America, especially the plains states—hell it’s even South Dakota’s state bird). Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland, broke the news in an email.
And as beautiful as it is, it might also be illegal. And if that's the case, Oregon probably would have wanted me to let it die.
UPDATE: 5:30 PM Bob Sallinger just informed me the animal is legal to possess in the state of Oregon, with the right paperwork.
Here's his full response to my inquiry.
As far as I know, golden pheasants are legal to possess in Oregon and are not becoming prolific in the environment. They are listed as controlled which means there are some rules governing their possession. However people are allowed to keep them in captivity. If one were brought to Audubon or another rehab facility, we would transfer or refer it to either somebody who is qualified to have them or to domestic animal shelter that could adopt it to an appropriate home. We would not be required to euthanize it. The terminology gets confusing...but there is a difference between an exotic species and an invasive species.
The one place that legality might come into question would be if it was deliberately abandoned into the wild. It would not be legal to just dump a bird like this into the environment if it was not longer wanted..
An invasive species is classified as any non-native animal or plant that, once introduced to an environment, causes economic or ecological harm. And as I reported back in August, if you show up at an animal rehabilitation center with an injured invasive in your arms, the center by law has to either turn you away, or euthanize the animal.
Rehab centers can’t legally treat injured invasives, and if they do, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife finds out, they could lose their license. And how the animals are killed can get a little gruesome.
The problem is the whole invasive classification system is a little prejudiced. Some invasives get a free ride on the whole euthanasia thing—regardless of the damage they may cause to the environment—because they are "useful" to humans. This “useful” category includes, livestock, introduced non-native crops for agriculture, and house pets. Here enters the irony.
I wasn’t the only one that heard the colorful creature smash into the window; so had a neighborhood cat.
Cats are one of these privileged, "useful" invasives that, no matter how many songbirds they murder, we let off scot-free. Having heard the pheasant’s body slamming into the window, the cat ran toward it. And here comes the rest of my story.
When it got to the now shocked bird, it stopped and looked. It was obviously puzzled by the bird’s sheer magnitude. But the cat—which looked just like the Clintons' old cat, “Socks”—looked like it was going to pounce, so I, ever the nurturing moron, ran outside to scare predator away from prey. When I got there, I said something like, “Fuck you, Socks!” I had successfully saved
one invasive species an exotic species from being ripped to shreds by an invasive species. Minutes later, the bird, now out of shock, got up and ran away. Of course, I didn’t know at the time the pheasant was invasive. Now that I do, I’m feeling more than a little conflicted. But who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and both the cat and the bird will be hit by a car, and the natural order will be restored.
Lastly, to my neighbors’ neighbors, who I accosted in the early morning with rumors of a preternaturally colorful rooster running about, just ignore me. I was obviously confused and in a state of shock myself.