Our battle was fierce and the winner in doubt, but in the end, vanity was his undoing. It was man versus bird, a Giant Bird. No, not a giant chicken, but a large emu.
In the mid 90’s a fad swept across America. It was the arts and crafts practice of taking the large emu eggs and decorating them as part of art projects. I’m told the eggs could fetch $50-$100 apiece if sold to the right art supply people.
The result was that everyone with an extra large yard was buying an emu and keeping it to sell the eggs.
As a State Game Warden, I’d seen these large birds in outdoor enclosures on many properties. They stood out because they were nearly 5 ft tall and always seemed to look at you with an attitude. They’d strut around like the world belonged to them. Their stare let you know that they were the boss, not you.
As animals go, I hadn’t really paid a lot of attention to them because in Kansas they are considered a farm animal and not wildlife. They were more like a giant chicken as far as Kansas law went. It wasn’t part of my job to inspect them or deal with them…..or so I thought.
Unbeknownst to me, though, in the late 90’s came the “Great Emu Egg Crash”. A new source of the large eggs became available. In addition, the fad of decorating them had run its course and the fad fizzled out.
The price for the eggs dropped to near zero and all these people had emu’s which weren’t making them money anymore. They had these giant birds that they no longer wanted.
I have no idea what the fate was for many of the birds. I don’t know if they are good as barbecue.
I do know, however, that many people decided to, just let them go. I don’t know if they figured the coyotes would get them or if they actually thought they had a chance out in the wilds.
You know that every good job description has a statement toward the end which says, “other duties as assigned”.
It was a warm and sunny Saturday morning in May. I was in my patrol truck headed to the lake to begin checking fishing licenses. The crappie were hitting pretty good and there were throngs of fishermen coming from Kansas City to try their luck.
It was looking like a nice day to spend along the shore. My district was extremely busy because it had a large lake and was close to several large cities. I expected I would end up writing several tickets that day and possibly taking a few people to jail for various reasons.
My district was so busy that I carried multiple sets of handcuffs because it was common for me to end up arresting several people at a time for outstanding warrants, drugs, stolen property, or a hundred other reasons. Criminals liked to go to the lake just like everyone else, so I got to deal with them quite a bit.
Needless to say, the last thing on my mind was a giant chicken or an emu.
I had left my house and was almost to the lake when the county sheriff’s dispatcher called me by radio. She advised me that some people who lived north of the county seat had a giant bird in their yard.
I asked her to repeat her message. A Giant Bird??
Yes, she replied, a Giant Bird. I asked her if it was a wild turkey and she said the people knew what a turkey looked like and had told her this was a Giant Bird. Apparently, much bigger than a turkey.
I asked her what she wanted me to do about it and the dispatcher asked if I could go to their house and just make contact with them. In other words, they didn’t know what to do, but since it was an animal, I was the closest thing they had to an answer.
I was very curious about this “Giant Bird” and just what was going on. The drunks at the lake could wait. I had a Giant Bird to wrangle!
The county seat is a town called Oskaloosa and the house I was going to was a few miles north of town on the main highway.
It took about 20 minutes to get there. I pulled into the driveway of a very nice looking house. The owner came out and met me on the driveway. I greeted him and asked what was going on. He told me that a Giant Bird had showed up on the patio of their house. He said it wasn’t aggressive and seemed fairly tame. He didn’t know, however, where it came from.
I followed him around the house to the back yard and sure enough, there was a giant bird standing on their patio. It was an emu.
I already knew the answer, but I went ahead and asked him what he wanted me to do. He quickly asked me to remove the bird. They had no farm animals and the giant bird had already scared his small house dog to within an inch of his life.
About this time a sheriff’s deputy showed up to check out the “giant bird” call. I think over the years I had provided other law enforcement officers a lot of entertainment. Many of the calls I got were not the run of the mill type of call and if they were close by, they would also respond to help out.
As soon as the deputy got out of his patrol vehicle, he got a huge smile on his face and sort of laughed as he asked where the giant bird was at.
I knew that the local veterinarian would take custody of the bird if I could get it under control and into my truck…..I knew what that meant…….
I had to arrest the emu.
As I approached the emu I suddenly thought of the famous line from the movie “Young Guns” when the cowboy who is stoned on peyote asks his friends if they saw the giant chicken.
I quickly learned that herding emu’s is like trying to herd chickens……..complete pandemonium. That bird had no intention of going where I tried to herd him.
I knew that his beak could pierce a persons head and that his claws or feet could kick you and do damage. My initial plan was to just rush him and wrestle him to the ground. I would then wrap him in a raincoat I had in the truck.
The State of Kansas had never thought to equip me for capturing an emu…..I was on my own.
I got the raincoat out and tried to nonchalantly……slowly walk……toward the bird…….in a non-threatening manner. He of course wasn’t about to fall for my act and as soon as I grabbed him, he started flapping his large wings and jumped at me with his feet. One of his claws caught me on the left thigh and ripped my uniform pants. I didn’t notice at first, because the fight was on. At first I grabbed him by the body, but he came at me with those claws. I thought that he was fighting dirty. So in desperation I grabbed him by his long neck. I wasn’t trying to choke him, but was attempting to hang on any way I could.
I watched his beak as he bobbed his head this way and that. He’d move his head one way and I’d move mine the other in self defense. The last thing I wanted to do was get killed by an angry emu beak to the head.
As I held onto the bird he was trying to run and before long we were in the driveway at the front of the house. I tried to get my arm around the large birds body again and got kicked again. This time I fell to the ground. A cloud of dust was kicked up around me as I fell onto the gravel. The bird ran off.
At this point, the homeowner was staring at me with a look of disbelief. I don’t think he’d ever seen someone get beat up by a giant bird.
I looked over at the deputy sheriff and he was laughing hysterically at the show I had just put on. I got up and saw that my leg was bleeding and my pants were torn.
The giant bird had drawn first blood. It was on now!! I was going to get that bird regardless of how ridiculous he made me look.
I revised my plan and got a roll of duct tape out of my truck. I knew that I was going to need to restrain him somehow because he showed no intent of going quietly. Apparently this was an ill-tempered emu that was prepared to fight it out.
I looked up to see where the emu had gone to. I saw that he had run to the neighbors house and was standing in their driveway.
I quickly walked toward him in a wide arch. I was trying to get at him from behind, but of course he knew that trick also. He started to run again and I cut him off. He then turned around and ran into the attached garage of the neighbors house.
They had a double car garage and both doors were wide open. So he ended up running at full speed into the garage. I figured that since he was now cornered, he was really going to put up a fight.
As I ran into the garage right behind the giant bird, I was surprised when the bird stopped in his tracks and froze in place. He seemed to suddenly forget that I was right behind him. He didn’t move, but just stared at the corner of the garage.
I was afraid he had encountered the neighbors dog or children in the garage. If they got caught in the middle of this chaos, I’d have to let the bird win again.
I waited for several seconds, but the bird didn’t move. He seemed to sort of fluff up his feathers and make a strange noise. As I rounded a stack of boxes, I found what had stopped the emu in his tracks……It was another emu…… or at least thats what he thought.
Sitting there along the garage wall was a large dresser mirror that was being stored. The emu seemed to think that the emu he was looking at was quite fetching.
I knew that bird had a giant ego from the minute I first met him. At this point he was looking at that bird and had forgotten about me.
I was then able to throw my raincoat around him and run the tape around the outside. He’d become very tame. In fact, the biggest fight at that point was that he kept trying to look in the mirror. It got his attention so completely that I was able to tape his beak and his feet together.
As I carried the large bundle out of the garage he wiggled and flopped, but I was able to hang on. The deputy opened the passenger door of my truck and I placed him inside.
I had arrested an emu!
In the end it was his vanity that led to his capture. He just couldn’t get enough of that good looking bird he saw in the mirror! If it hadn’t been for that mirror, I’d still be chasing that “Giant Bird” across the county!