North Idaho's Bird Man
Sandpoint man cares for flock of wild game birds in a heated quail barn.
Perched on a post, this male quail observes his surroundings in search of predators.
Building contractors and home-owners in the Panhandle country of North Idaho know 72-year-old Ron Book as a busy, full-time house painter who has no interest in slowing down. What they may not know about him is that his friends refer to him as North Idaho’s "Bird Man" because of his hobby: raising wild game birds – especially quail.
Ron lives with his wife of 51 years, Phyllis, just outside Sandpoint (pop. 5,500). Their rural home stands in the shadows of the 5,000-feet-tall Selkirk Mountain Range.
His love for wild birds began on the family farm near Estherville, in northwestern Iowa, a few miles from the Minnesota border. That part of the upper Midwest is noted for its flatness, and during the winter, cold winds howl out of the northwest. Area farmers plant trees in groves and shelterbelts on the north and west sides of their farmhouses and buildings to stop (or rather slow down) winds and blowing snow during blizzards.
Ron remembers as a youngster feeding upwards of a hundred pheasant in a tree grove on their property during the winter. Once during an extreme ice storm, he and his dad brought dozens of the nearly frozen wild birds into the basement and placed them around a stove to prevent them from freezing.
Of course, when the flock thawed in the stove’s radiating heat, the birds began flying franticly around the basement, trying to escape outside.
He laughs about the incident now, but back then, "My mom wasn’t very happy." Both he and his dad got into a little trouble when the wild birds knocked over and broke a number of Mason jars containing garden-raised vegetables. They opened the door and herded the winged critters outside.