• James E Aarons DVM

Stealing Ostrich Eggs: Fear of Failure: Chapter 39

The birds arrived in early December, their presence changed things a lot.

I opened my eyes and smiled as I remembered it was Christmas morning. Mary’s rhythmic breathing told me she was still asleep. Gentling the covers over her I slipped from the bed.

As I searched in the cold for my slippers, the wood stove reminded me it needed fuel and the dark room told me the Christmas tree was waiting to be lit. But first I had to pee. Pulling on a hooded jacket I jammed a yarn cap on my head and stepped out the patio door to find my outside pee spot. 

From out of the pre-dawn mist I heard a low-level boom reverberating through the crisp morning quiet.

‘Woo, woo, woooo.’

I looked all around me as the eerie noise came again.

‘Woo-woo, woooo.’

The sound was coming from our ostrich pen. Ever since Sutton, the male half of the newly arrived ostrich couple, and Big Hen his mate arrived in early December, we marveled at how quiet they were. Even peacocks made more noise than these two. We had been told about ostrich “booming”, but we had never heard it.  Evidently, this Christmas morning, Sutton finally felt secure in his new place and began to vocalize his superiority.

‘Woo-woo, woooo.’

What a sound! I was excited and intrigued as I moved tentatively toward the pen. At my approach Sutton stood tall, spread his wings wide, and hissed a warning at me through his wide open mouth.

Undaunted, I walked closer.

With this threat, Sutton rushed at me, stopped at the fence line, and began a fretful dance. He placed one foot on the ground and then the other, stepping quicker and quicker like a runner warming up. Dialing up the frenzy, he launched himself full-force at me. I had been frequently warned about the danger of confronting this prehistoric creature. Men had been disemboweled when struck with the bird’s giant nasty toenail.

But I wasn’t worried; I was safe on the other side of the fence. We had increased the height of the fencing to seven feet to be sure everyone was protected. If fact, we never entered the pen with them. When feeding the adults, we only opened the top half of the barn door and poured their meal into a feeder right next to the door. Similarly, we hosed water into a large tub next to the feeder. We did everything we could to avoid going in there with the grown-ups.

When Sutton dropped, puffed out his feathers, and started banging his head against his sides, back and forth, I moved closer.

He stopped banging and called again: ‘Woo-woo, woooo.’

Then I saw it. There was a large white egg in a small impression they had dug in the ground. Sutton was extra vigilant this morning because Big Hen laid an egg. He was warning me away; this was his egg.

And, you know, Sutton was right to protect it. I did want the egg. We opened the ostrich facility specifically to collect and incubate these eggs.

But we weren’t ready for this part of the operation. We didn’t have an incubator or a hatcher. Ostrich are seasonal breeders, they told us, and were most active during the summer months. Besides, hens had been known to hold their eggs for a long time until they were comfortable in their new home. This was way too early. I thought we had a few months to get our protocol worked out before this moment arrived.

‘Woo-woo, woooo.’

But the egg had been laid, and the incubation needed to be arranged. We had to collect the egg… today.

Back inside the house I fired the woodstove, lit the tree, and turned on the coffee maker. While waiting for the coffee to finish I went to the bedroom, sat on the bed, and shook Mary awake. She turned and opened her eyes. “Merry Christmas, Jim,” she said, smiling warmly.

“There’s an egg in the pen, Mary,” I blurted out, “an ostrich egg!”


“Big Hen laid an egg, Mary.”

“Really?” When?”

“Last night!”

“Oh,” Mary said, losing her smile. “That means we have to collect it and get it into storage, doesn’t it?”

“Yep, and I’ve been thinking,” I began. “Our first job is to figure out how we can distract them and steal the egg from the nest, from underneath Sutton,” I said matter-of-factly.

“What nest? I haven’t seen anything resembling a nest, Jim.”

“They dug a shallow hole in the ground about six inches deep and a yard around,” I said, demonstrating with my hands. “The egg’s just sitting in there. I need to figure a way to move the birds away from the egg. Oh, the coffee’s almost done. I’ll be back with a plan,” I promised.

Coffee cup in hand, I rummaged around the barn and found an old, half-inch thick piece of plywood, about four feet wide and eight feet long. “I can make a shield out of this!” I told myself. “I can screw two metal handles onto the piece and cut some eye sites so I can hold the board in front of me, walk into the pen, and just pick up the egg!”

Mary dubiously came outside to help.

“What do you think?” I asked, showing her my large wooden plank with hand grips and eye slits.

“You need to paint a gorilla on the front,” Mary said.

An hour later, an eight-foot tall, brown gorilla with yellow eyes, teeth, and ears was moving gingerly toward the ostrich pen. Mary followed behind me. “Walk normal,” she loudly whispered. “They don’t know who or what you are.”

“We’re just going in to get an egg,” I said out loud, finding courage behind the big board. “We’re not stealing the crown prince. Remember, these are really dumb birds. We just need to be quiet, and careful. Look at them, they don’t have a clue; they’re looking around stupidly, blinking their big stupid eyes, just like normal.”

“Here, you take this side,” I said offering Mary a piece of the action.

“I’d rather not…”

“Honey, I cannot hold the two handles and an egg at the same time. You work on the left side. I’ll work the right. Now stay close to me, so your butt’s not sticking out the side. Yeah, that’s it. Stay tucked close to me… Ready?”

The ploy worked unexpectedly well. With the gorilla doing an excellent job of intimidation, the birds politely moved away without any protestations whatever. I don’t think they even noticed the egg was gone.

It was our first successful interaction with these gigantic birds, and our most memorable Christmas morning ever.

Last Chapter: Chiquita Next Chapter: Ostrich Farming

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