He didn’t know what it was. He’d never seen a bird like it. Someone had told him it was some kind of rail. He’d tried to call me to see if I could tell him what it was for sure but when he called I was out and when I returned his call in answer to his recorded message he was out. But now he’d called, I was home, and the bird was back. Outside his home, I assumed.
I didn’t think from what he told me it was a rail. It was on the ground by a corn crib and it was eating corn scattered on the ground. Rails don’t eat corn. Besides, rails are birds of wetlands, of marshes. Further, rails are early fall migrants. Any rail would now be in the south, not in northern Indiana.
The description didn’t sound like any rail either. It was the size and general shape of a bobwhite. It didn’t have long legs or a long bill. Of course the sora, which is a rail, has a short bill, like a chicken. But this bird’s bill was red, a sora’s is yellow. This bird had a black line across its face and down onto its breast and black lines on its sides toward the tail. A sora does not.
So when the fellow said that bird is back I asked for directions, left home immediately and drove to his farm, 29 miles. He was in the barn. “That bird was by the corn crib just five minutes ago,” he said as he led me hurriedly to the corn cribs, two corn cribs side by side. The bird was gone and there was a cat where the bird had been.
A friend had taken a picture of the bird, my caller told me. That friend worked in a hardware store in the nearest town and if I went there I could at least see a picture.
Before going to see a picture, a photograph, I showed the man, his wife and a younger man, their son I presumed, pictures in the bird book I’d brought. First I showed pictures of rails. It wasn’t any of those, as I’d been quite sure it wasn’t. Then, guessing from their descriptions of the bird, I showed them a picture of a chukar. “That’s it,” they all exclaimed. The chukar is a partridge, a bird of the pheasant family, and it’s a bird of Europe and Asia. Like the pheasant it has been introduced in many states of the U.S. and provinces of Canada. It has become established and now nests in ten states of the U.S. and one province of Canada. All those states and that province, however, are in the northwest. The closest to Indiana a naturally occurring wild chukar would be is Colorado or Wyoming. I didn’t see “that bird.” But I did see its picture. I agree with those people, it was a chukar. Someone in the area must be keeping some, perhaps raising them and this one escaped. It certainly didn’t fly to Indiana from Colorado or Wyoming.