The Ring-Necked Pheasant (Halloween 2012, Post 2)

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, October 31, 2012


When my daughter told me that she wanted to be a ring-necked pheasant for Halloween, I said, "Let's do it." Her love of the strange, beautiful birds we encounter so often here in downtown Detroit goes back many years. She chose to have a ring-necked pheasant-themed birthday party when she turned five (complete with a ring-necked pheasant cake). I knew this was what she really wanted for her Halloween costume, so it just became a matter if how to get it done.


A few years ago at a parent-conference a teacher wondered if my daughter might have some motor skills issue because of how she ran. I questioned her further, and she described my daughter running with a sort of gallop rather than a fluid motion. I knew immediately what she meant: for years my daughter galloped rather than ran because she was always pretending to be a horse. I guess her teacher hadn't noticed all the whinnying and neighing, or maybe the child had the good sense not to do those things in front of her classmates. But it was the sort of thing she used to do that made me swell up inside with the agony of knowing that one day she would outgrow such wonderful things, that the world would chew her up and when it spit her out none of that magic would be left. So when I set out to make her a pheasant costume, I didn't want her to feel like a kid in a bird costume. I wanted her to feel like an actual pheasant.


If Rob Lowe's character from Parks and Recreation lived in our neighborhood, I wanted him to say, "Wow, you are literally. . .a pheasant," when we came to his door trick-or-treating (even though he'd probably give her an organic wheatgrass bar or something). She started practicing her pheasant walk and her pheasant call and I got to work.


I made the head from a piece of veg-tanned leather I had left over from other projects. I stamped it, sewed it together, and dyed it the proper colors. The eyes are the only thing on the costume that I had to buy (they are carousel horse eyes that I ordered from a taxidermy wholesaler). She can see through a slit built in right above the beak. The breast and shoulder feathers are all leftover leather remnants as well, and the body is made from a piece of upholstery foam I covered with brown fabric cut into feathers. She helped me with that part, and she also painted and put together the tail. The tail "feathers" are linen strengthened with dowels.


Our German Short-haired Pointer didn't know what to make of a four-foot-tall ring-necked pheasant. I think he felt that was beyond his pay grade. 


The feet might be my favorite part. I just sewed together some long scraps of veg-tanned leather I had in my throwaway bin, then soaked them and cooked them into shape. I was going to dye them white like her tights (and real pheasant feet) but I really just liked the natural color. They attach above her feet with elastic sewed to the back.


We took these pictures while out testing the costume so I could make some adjustments before the big night, but she had no complaints. At least none I could understand (I don't speak pheasant).