A Very Freaky Deal
We have a pair of Golden Pheasants. Here’s Pharoah, the male, in all his glorious plumage. The photo doesn’t capture the brilliant yellows and glowing greens.
He’s a quiet guy, saying nothing, and running for the nearest clump of grass whenever I show up.
Here’s Trixie, his mate, in her tastefully understated plumage so she can blend into nature while sitting on a nest of eggs.
Last month Melissa came in from doing chores and said, “Trixie’s molting.” Since it’s normal for birds to shed their feathers and grow new ones, I just nodded. “But her feathers are coming back like Pharoah’s. She’s growing male feathers. She’s cross-dressing.”
“That’s nice, dear.” I was deep into the simultaneous revision of two manuscripts (not something I can recommend if you value your sanity), so I really wasn’t listening. Or maybe I heard, but I just didn’t believe it.
Then Melissa went on a hunting weekend and chores were mine. I entered the bird pen with food and water, calling for Trixie. I heard her perky chirp coming from one of the low wooden shelters, so I bent over and peeked inside.
Holy crap. Holy What’s-Wrong-With-This-Picture? This wasn’t the Trixie I knew. She had a long tail, like Pharoah’s. She had yellow and red and orange feathers, like Pharoah. Could this really be Trixie? I searched the rest of the pen and found Pharoah, who of course darted behind a little building.
Yes, that first bird had Trixie’s shape, taller and rounder than Pharoah. And she was chirping happily, like Trixie. She was Trixie!
I ran back to the house for my camera. I snapped Trixie’s photo. I chased Pharoah around the pen, nearly falling into a hole and breaking an ankle. I nearly slammed my face into a low-hanging roof. Each time, the blasted bird slipped around the corner so the only thing in the photo was his tail. Then I remembered I had a Pharoah photo on my computer.
But now I needed a photo of both together to prove there really were two male-colored birds. Neither Trixie or Pharoah cooperated. I finally snapped this non-award-winning photo of Pharoah following Trixie.
Then my camera battery died, and both birds hopped onto the roof of the shelter and sat side-by-side, blowing raspberries at me.
Our birding friend Kathy assures me these sorts of things happen (the female-to-male plumage, not the bird taunting behavior.) I did some research and found an article, but when I got to: ‘phylogenetic distribution of proximate mechanisms controlling plumage dichromatism,” I moved on.
I don’t really need to know the science behind it. It has something to do with her being low on estrogen. (Oh, baby, can I relate to that.)
The good news is that Pharoah still loves Trixie, and still does his best to impress her with his brilliant plumage. I imagine she’s less impressed now, since she’s so stunning herself.