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Welcome to the Pine River Review. Our sight is dedicated to our little homestead located along the Pine River tucked inside the Chippewa Nature Center's 1400 Acres of wild in Michigan's lower penninsula. We love to share our pictures, video, comment, and our own homespun music. Step inside our world as we celebrate this beautiful nook!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

City Chicken

    Here in the devastated East side neighborhoods of Detroit where arson fires have been burning up the housing stock for decades, the land has slowly changed character. Where endless neighborhoods of single family dwellings once housed the blue collar citizens that put the world on wheels now all that remains is the haunting skeleton of what was the fifth largest city in the United States. The wealth created from this Twentieth century manufacturing giant has dissipated and the latest economic downturn appears to be just another shovelful of dirt heaped on Detroit's virtual grave. I make my living helping to put out the fires that rage nightly in my old hometown and all of us who serve have seen the icons of our growing years go up in a literal column of thick dark smoke.
    As the dilapidated buildings slowly work their way through the snarled bureaucracy they're eventually torn down and their foundations are filled with dirt. In natures patient way a new ecology has come to dominate. Blocks of unmowed open fields strewn with wild bushes and fallen trees have made for the perfect conditions necessary to support what we affectionately call City Chicken, a bird you know as the Ring-necked pheasant. The pheasant is a tasty game bird, native to Eastern Asia, that came to North America in the 1880's to supplement stock for hunters whose favorite field prey, the partridge and quail, were diminishing in those years.

      The pheasant took well to the small family farms of early America whose 10 and 20 acre fields where bordered by hedges that gave cover for the nesting birds. In 1940 there where 190,000 farms in Michigan and by 1990 the number had shrunk to 60,000. The vital hedgerows where torn up to make way for the larger farm fields. Modern farming methods such as fall plowings and the early and often cuttings of hay fields also cut drastically into Ring-necked pheasant numbers in rural counties.
In the growing, tangled patchwork of neglected city blocks these tough birds compete successfully with the stray dogs, cats and rats that roam the mean streets. As Detroit depopulated from over two million residents when I was born in the 1950's to just over seven hundred thousand these days, the wily, opportunistic pheasant has found an unexpected sanctuary from the sportsman's shotguns and the farmers plows and chemicals. It seems that our 1.3 million population loss is, quite literally, their gain.


City Chicken is also the name of one of our favorite firehouse meals. It has been made at our engine house since it was opened in 1899. City chicken is a concoction made of veal and pork chunks pushed on a stick, breaded,  fried and than baked hot for an hour or two or three. It is usually served with mashed potatoes and gravy. Here's the recipe!
 Below in the distance sits the 112 year old quarters of Engine 23 with an open meadow now emerging from the old cityscape. There's City chicken in the oven of that hallowed building, and now City chickens in the field across the street too.


  1. wow! had no idea pheasants would find seclusion and prosperity in the vacant areas of Detroit! i'm so impressed by their resiliency! i'm truly sorry it is happening because of the demise of a once-great, bustling city. you got some wonderful shots of these beauties!

    p.s. what a great job you do! my hubby was a firefighter/emt in a much earlier life - once a firefighter, always a firefighter it seems...

  2. Sorry to hear what has happened to your city. Heavenly beautiful bird there, the first pic is a masterpiece,with the bird focused in crisp sharpness and blurred background.

  3. I read about the drop in population in Detroit but never considered what has happened to the housing stock and commercial property. It's amazing how wildlife adapts and how this bird has found a home in the new wilds of Detroit.

  4. Great essay!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  5. Great post Springman. The Pheasant is my favourite bird, and I love how they are adapting to city life there.
    Great recipe. I might try that. :)

  6. Springman, It is interesting to learn how Pheasants have adapted to city living. Your "City Chicken" meal sounds almost like southern fare.
    How sad that fires are being set nightly. Any idea who is responsible?

  7. What a melancholy decline. And I am only just learning about the birth of the motor industry, with its raw promise and daring enterprise.

    To see my favourite country bird associated with a totally different side of the coin of life, is quite sobering. To learn that you are so embedded in the ways this tragedy is being played out, makes me sadder still.

    Some consolation in the beauty of these birds so expertly depicted by your camera.

  8. I often think we should go into our old midwestern cities (I'm a Toledo girl) and be sure to tear down at least every other or every third house, and create urban open spaces. Some of my friends here keep an urban bird list. It's getting to be pretty special again.

  9. Who'd have thought?
    Thanks for the work that you do every day out there!

  10. It is a beautiful bird and it is a surprise to learn it is not native to north America. They do well in my area of dedicated open areas of grass and bramble.

  11. It's sad, for you and your economy, especially that places are burned down that way.
    For the local wildlife and mother nature in general, it's a winning situation,I guess.
    That recipe sounds yummy,must try that one day when we are back to places where meat tastes like meat :)
    That first pheasant shot is glorious, whoa!

  12. I know a lot more about pheasants (and Detroit) now, than I did half an hour ago. I think they are beautiful birds, but I had no idea they were so hardy they could live in the city. I guess they just hide really well...

  13. Springman -- the pheasant shots are beautiful -- and I knew these birds were adaptable.

    But your post made me cry. I'm glad you guys are there (and gals -- being from the Northwest, I use you guys the way Southerners use y'all).

    But it is sad to see what is happening to this once great City.

    I am glad you shared though; hearing or reading about Detroit on the news means a lot more now that it is personalized.

  14. another Lesson my friend, your posts are always a good read, and I agree with others in that your first image of the Pheasant is one of the best I have seen... superb Springman.

    I live close to a forest and often se 20-30 Pheasants down by the river... a super bird and a great bird to get into your image library

  15. Thanks very much for all the kind comments. I would like to do more articles about Detroit's emergence from its post industrial collapse. The problem is, while there are interesting ecological changes afoot it can just be so damn depressing focusing on them given the ugly social, political, and economic factors that have given them birth. I appreciate the generous attention you all have given this melancholy post. I am acutely aware that there is plenty of bad news in this world we share and it's easy to swallow to much. That nature is reclaiming these vacant blocks is, I hope, a little uplifting!


  16. A very interesting post. I read about the drastic drop in population in Detroit on a news site a while ago but your photos make it very real. It's amazing how quickly the vegetation is reclaiming the vacant lots although I wonder if some of those large trees were there earlier?

  17. Love your photos of the city chickens but find it devastating that the wonders of the industrial revolution are now generating only hardship with lay offs everywhere. Here too, car makers have been closing shop one by one and thousands of people are left out of work and do not even get the severance pay they are entitled to.
    I am sorry you have to witness your town going to rack and ruin.

  18. Wow! The first thing I thought when I saw your header today was "What a crazy-quilt bird!" So beautiful!
    The devastation of a once proud and beautiful city makes one very sad. It is amazing, though, to see that Nature can eventually heal the scars left by crumbled or burned-out buildings.

  19. How quick Mother is to reclaim!! Just goes to show that nature has the strength to put their house back in order way faster and way better than we humans ever think to do--we have to have endlessssss meeetings and conversations and yada yada yada...while in Nature they just do the RIGHT THING in the first place...oh Grasshoppers we have learned so little from our Planet.
    ITS an excellent post Springman and what a great bird to have roaming the projects and the burbs alike!!

  20. It doesn't really matter that there are much 'worse' things going on in the world. It's good that you report / document what's going on around you. We can all do only so much, trust me, I know that feeling.
    People see some trash on my beach photos and tell me, there's litter at the beach,.... boy, if you could only see the rest of this place....
    But like you say, it's depressing to write too much about it (and in my case depending on WHAT I say, maybe even quite unhealthy, Kuwait's prisons are not too great).

    What I am trying to say is, keep it up, take photos and post updates when you can. Maybe it will help in the healing process of the city. There must be some better times ahead,...