A familiar feathered face waited for Judie Blair at her back door Labor Day morning: a rogue golden pheasant she’d fed daily for most of the summer had returned after vanishing for nearly a month.
Blair, a retiree living in Jamaica Plain, called him Phil.
Phil wasn’t her pet, but Blair knew he must belong to someone.
The bird, native to the mountainous regions of Western China, was so friendly he’d practically eat out of her hand. Their fair-weather friendship began in May when the small game bird with the golden head started paying her daily house calls.
He became a regular on the property, nestled between the Arboretum and Jamaica Pond.
Twice a day, Blair fed her “yard critters,” as she likes to call them: chipmunks, squirrels, local birds, and Phil. He particularly liked peanuts. She watched him grow over June and July. His colors changed. The red, orange, and golden feathers turned more vibrant. She’d show friends his picture.
Blair last saw Phil in her backyard on Aug. 19.
“We had been away lately,” Blair said, “so I feared he had moved on.”
A week later, the MSPCA’s Boston Adoption Center posted on Facebook that it had received three e-mails from other residents with sightings of the elusive Eastern fowl.
Other pet and animal websites also shared his photo. Days passed, but no Phil.
Then, on Tuesday, the winged wayfarer made his way to Blair’s yard, and she dialed the Animal Rescue League of Boston. By Wednesday afternoon, Phil had been captured by the authorities.
Though not native to this region, golden pheasants are cold-hardy, ground-dwelling birds that roost in trees at night, according to Frederick Beall, Zoo New England general curator.
“As long as there is food and water available,” Beall wrote in an e-mail, “they can handle the winter.”
Bird lovers can keep golden pheasants here but are required to get a permit. Just 26 such permits have been issued in Massachusetts, said Marion Larson, of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. None of the permit holders is in Jamaica Plain. The closest are in Weymouth and Saugus.
For now, the pheasant is being evaluated, according to Dot Joyce, spokesman for the Animal Rescue League. If no one claims him, he’ll be available for adoption.
Phil is definitely an escapee, and his owner may have lacked a permit, Larson said.
“This is not a wild bird,” she noted. “It’s used to people. It’s like a pretty exotic-looking chicken or rooster.”
While Blair is glad that Phil finally came home to roost, she admits to feeling conflicted.
“I miss him already.”