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Wanted: best rooster crow (roosters need not apply)

Charles Dunnell of Fargo participates in the Human Crowing contest Thursday, July 10, 2014, at the Red River Valley Fair in West Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

WEST FARGO – When you think about it, taking part in the human crowing contest at the Red River Valley Fair is sort of mortifying.

One by one, contestants stood against a wall next to a colorful sign. Barn manager Louise Tegtmeier trained an iPad at them while they belted out their best rooster impressions.

Some caved under the gaze of the dozen or so spectators. Others remained icy cool, unperturbed and ready to squawk. Charles Dunnell even used his hands to imitate little wings.

But most performances Thursday ended with a sheepish grin, as if the crowers couldn’t believe they just did that in public.

“Don’t tell my mother about this, please,” Tess Veen said just before her turn.

In its second official year, the human crowing contest drew nine brave souls to stare down Tegtmeier’s iPad and give it their best. (She takes photos of each contestant that she pledges only they will see.)

The crows ranged from clearly practiced to a little weak, with one girl literally saying, “cock-a-doodle-doo” and exiting stage right.

Veen, a 13-year-old from Harwood, said she hadn’t rehearsed beforehand. Her squawk came out thin and a little high, with some interpretive hand motions to boot.

Veen was under the impression that the loudest rooster cry would win, but that was only part of the story. Tegtmeier also handed out awards for the youngest and oldest competitors, the best rooster imitation, and the longest crow.

Each contestant was limited to one prize, and almost everybody won something.

Dunnell, the man with the hands, is 71 years old and took home the “oldest contestant” prize, but he could have made a serious case for the most authentic call.

The Fargo man mimics all kinds of birds, including robins and meadow larks. He also does a perfect loon, though he’s modest about it.

“I used to call geese in with my mouth,” he said. “The oldest son didn’t believe me until we went out hunting.”

Dunnell guessed his hobby probably started when he was 4 or 5 years old. His pet crow used to wake the neighbors up early, and he’d crow right back at it.

There’s no real consensus on what makes a “good” crow. Since the categories are so diverse, authenticity isn’t everything.

At the crowing contest for actual roosters, held in the same barn a few hours earlier, frequency was key. The winning rooster in Thursday’s contest crowed 10 times in 15 minutes.

The human contest began unofficially about eight years ago, Tegtmeier said, when a man actually dressed up as a rooster and started crowing. He quickly got others to follow suit.

Dunnell said he entered the contest for the fun of it. Veen joined with a few friends, who jokingly assured her the performance would follow her for the rest of her life.