Ned Sibert has more than a partridge and a pear tree in his back yard.
About 100 pheasants, 75 quail, 50 peacocks, numerous peafowl, and 25 partridges -- who never roost on the pear tree -- inhabit several large pens on Sibert's property, which consists of about two acres on a dead-end road bordering routes 175 and 108.
Dressed in a flannel shirt, work pants and a painter's hat, Sibert looks completely at home in his rustic surroundings.
"I grew up on a farm cleaning chicken houses and I swore that when I grew up, I would never have birds," said the Columbia resident, who admits only to an age somewhere "over 49."
Sibert's childhood vow to himself changed about seven years ago when he resumed a hobby of trout fishing.
But when he went shopping for flies for his fishing line, Sibert was astounded with the inflated prices.
"They wanted $2.50 for a fly that I used to be able to buy for 19 cents," he said. "I decided, 'I'll make my own.' " When Sibert attempted to buy the feathers, however, he ran into a similar stumbling block -- high prices. Some feathers cost as much as $60 each, Sibert said.
That's when he made the decision to "buy the whole bird" instead. The fisherman built a pen in his backyard, bought a pair of golden pheasants "with pretty feathers," and began making the flys himself from the fluttery moltings.
Eventually -- because Sibert needed a variety of feathers -- more birds were purchased. "I had more fun tying the flys than fishing for fish," he laughed.
Ultimately, the "fun" of making flys evolved into a growing fascination for pheasants and waterfowl as Sibert devoured magazines and books for more information about the birds.
Today, Sibert has hung up his fishing rod once again -- replacing his leisurely pastime with three or four hours of daily care for about 250 birds.
The former fisherman breeds and sells waterfowl and pheasants to other bird fanciers. On a sunny day, Sibert's back yard, lined with rows and rows of drab pens, is alive with color as blue India peacocks fan tails of turquoise and purple.
Scintillating copper pheasants gleam in the sun like new pennies. And blue-eared pheasants stare unblinkingly from primary red eyes.
"I didn't know that these kinds of birds existed. Breeding has opened up an entire new thing to me," said Sibert who is a member of the American Pheasant-Waterfowl Society and the Maryland-Carolina Pheasant-Waterfowl Society.
Because Sibert has learned to breed as well as to diagnose and treat diseases of fowl, he considers himself an expert.
"Those of us who raise these kinds of birds know as much or even more than the vets," Sibert said.
Many of the birds, he said, are shipped from other countries and are uncommon as family pets.
Because the birds are susceptible to several diseases, Sibert makes sure their feed is supplemented with protein, wheat germ oil and vitamins.
In addition, the bird breeder is a certified poultry tester, which enables him to perform blood tests on his own birds.
Another major job for the bird breeder is looking after fertile eggs.
Sibert has installed incubators for hatching, brooders (heated structures) for providing warmth for the hatchlings, and small pens for 4-week-old birds.
"Taking care of the eggs and incubators is a job in itself," said Sibert. "The temperature and humidity are critical and if there is a difference of -degree, you lose the eggs. Once you hatch them out, they are waiting to die and I keep trying to keep them alive."
Although the birds are not pets, Sibert admits to giving an occasional stroke beneath a beak once in a while -- but never to a golden pheasant or a Malayan fireback pheasant -- two "mean" birds.
Generally, wild birds become stressed very easily, Sibert said. Late at night, whenever he hears the rustle of feathers, Sibert gets out his shotgun to see if all is well in the hen houses.
Foxes, raccoons, opossums and neighborhood dogs are usually the culprits who stalk the pens and can even frighten the birds to death, says Sibert.
Different species of fowl have specific characteristics Sibert has discovered. For instance, blue-eared pheasants are calm and they "come up to you, clucking, when you feed them." Sibert said they emit an odd call that sounds like a jackass.
If you whistle to a bobwhite quail, it will return the sound; peacocks sound like "a woman hollering for help;" and sometimes, if not separated, cocks will kill hens or hens will kill each other.
Sibert will convey all of this information, plus a tour, to anyone who happens to drop by -- especially children and their parents.
The divorced father of four grown children believes he is providing a service to the community.
"It's educational; the children don't know they are absorbing the information -- they are so fascinated," he said.
Usually, Sibert orders his stock from other breeders throughout the U.S.
and abroad. And, he, in turn, has sold birds to breeders as far away as Alaska. His birds can cost from $75 a pair up to about $500.
One breeder, a doctor in South America, ordered $800 worth of birds from Sibert.
"I get to talk to so many interesting people from all over -- Texas, California, Oklahoma, Alaska," he said.
Though his business "involves good sums of money," Sibert said it is not necessarily lucrative.
With that in mind, he plans to concentrate on the more expensive birds.
"I have reached my peak; I am trying to increase the quality, rather than the quantity. Right now, I have a good stock of more expensive birds that sell for $100 a pair and up," he said.
Next spring, when the mating begins, Sibert hopes to breed some quality birds.
During this time, his work load will increase from four hours a day to about five hours a day, but he doesn't seem to mind.
"Bird breeding has opened up new horizons for me," Sibert said.
"Besides, if I am lonesome, I call somebody on the phone and we talk about birds."