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Urban Pheasants

Downtown Detroit's Birds

Written and Photographed by Jim Hebert,

March 1997

[Photograph: Railway Corridor] A few hundred feet from the Detroit River and running parallel to it, a railroad corridor snakes into downtown Detroit from the southwest. It passes under the Ambassador Bridge and terminates at "The Boatyard", a rail yard where trains used to be made up for transit across the river via ferry.

Flanked on one side by the water and on the other by Jefferson Avenue, the railroad has few neighbors. It borders on mostly vacant land, overgrown with weeds which provide a wonderful habitat for a new type of resident, the ring neck pheasant.

I often take my lunch hour at a small park just south of the bridge. It's a popular place in summer, but in the dead of winter it only draws a few diehards each day. We sit in our cars and watch the ice flow by on the river.

One winter afternoon as I munched on a ham sandwich, I noticed a new visitor to the park; a pheasant strolled through the grasses, looking for her lunch. When I looked closer, I saw another, then another, until at final talley there were a dozen. Twelve pheasants, two or three males and the rest hens, slowly traversing the park in front of me, searching for food.

I can't imagine finding such a flock of these birds anywhere else in the whole state! Here they were, right in downtown. That afternoon, I began a photographic vigil, dropping by the park two or three times a week, hoping to find these birds again and get them on camera.

[Photograph: Male Pheasant] It took a few weeks, but the urban pheasants reappeared for their film debut. They never came again in quite the numbers that I saw them initially, but one daring male poked out from the brush along the tracks and wandered into the park on a couple of days.

He hopped the fence and flew into the empty parking lot of the little municipal boat launch ramp, then wandered across into the grass and brush. Fortunately, the gate was open so I chased him in there. As soon as I got close, he took flight and perched on the fence behind the J. W. Westcott Company parking lot.

[Photograph: Male Pheasant perched on fence] I drove out of the boat launch--the workmen they were yelling for me to leave-- and approached the wild bird slowly, keeping back from the car window so he wouldn't see me. Obligingly, he sat on the fence for a few minutes, trying to decide if he should advance or retreat. After careful consideration of his situation, he decided to retreat, and that modeling session was over.

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Copyright © 1997 by James W. Hebert. All rights reserved!
Last modified: May 12, 1997