December 22, 2011 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Checking in with Chicken

 

Chicken poses reluctantly with some holiday decoration.
(Full-size photo)

Friday is a special anniversary at my house – it will be two years to the day that our most unusual Christmas visitor arrived. She appeared in our driveway from who-knows-where, in the form of a young wild chicken whom we (lacking imagination) named Chicken. She stayed with us for nearly a year.

Well, in truth, she stayed around us – in trees, under decks, in the bed of a truck, behind crates and wherever she darn well pleased – allowing us to offer her food, in exchange for which she provided us with heaps of attitude and a lot of entertainment. She would resist mightily any attempts at physical contact, but she survived the cold winter and hot summer, the owls and coyotes and everything else that could have killed her.

I wrote about her quite often and was amazed at how many of you responded to her story and how often you pressed me for updates. I recently received an email from a man in response to something I had written about Washington’s initiative process. At the bottom of his thoughtful and detailed political commentary, he added a P.S. – “How’s Chicken?”

Joan Nolan also gets the same queries. Joan is the kind woman who took Chicken in (renaming her Miss Chicken) after we realized last year that no matter how good her survival skills were, our young feathered friend was going to run out of luck before long in our wide-open neighborhood. Joan reports attending a Gonzaga University women’s basketball game recently when a friend waved at her from across the way and shouted, “How’s the chicken?”

Allow me to tell you that Miss Chicken is just fine – still an unrepentant lunch-mouth, fat and sassy, her black feathers all shiny, and with the same take-no-prisoners attitude that kept her alive in the wild. I went for a visit this month (it was an open adoption, after all) and thought it might be nice to photograph her with a Christmas decoration of some sort, to mark the season and show her off. Do you have any idea what it’s like to try to capture and pose a half-feral chicken with a holiday prop?

Joan cornered her and picked her up. Miss Chicken has gotten to where she can tolerate that for a bit, but don’t push it. She’d have nothing to do with the ornament, however. After flapping, kicking and squirming, she wriggled away. The second capture was trickier. Our gal is smart enough to know this focused attention was not about food and, hence, wasn’t something she welcomed. Once re-caught, she quickly sabotaged attempts to hang the decoration around her neck. So we placed it on the ground and Joan held her down next to it just barely long enough for me to snap a quick picture. Don’t be alarmed at how angry she looks. She always looks that way, even when she’s happily chowing down on her favorite food, cut-up cucumbers. That’s just Miss Chicken.

In her year at Joan’s, where most of the chickens are rescues, Miss Chicken has enjoyed free-ranging on the large fenced property by day. She made friends right away with Billie, another standard-size bird, enjoyed the warmth and security of snuggling up with the other chickens at night, and began laying lovely light brown eggs. There was some drama earlier in the year when the three roosters ganged up on some of the girls. Even Miss Chicken had some feathers plucked from her head, and Joan moved the boys to a new home. Then in June, Miss Chicken got broody, refusing to leave the nest boxes.

“She let me know she wasn’t coming out until she had chicks,” Joan reported. “She is strong-willed, and I like to think I am, too, but I knew she was going to win this one. So away I went to the feed store, which just happened to have day-old chicks available.”

Joan purchased two, slipped them under Miss Chicken that night, and by morning, a family had been created. Miss Chicken was a wonderful mother, Joan reported, and didn’t begin weaning Miss Daisy and Miss Sophie until much later than is usual for chickens. Although it’s probably not right to attribute human emotions to chickens, I wonder if she held on to them so long because it took her so long to become part of a flock herself, to find a family of her own.

“But like humans, at a certain age, she was ready to push them out of the nest,” Joan said. Miss Chicken is back to her old self again and has resumed laying eggs. She likes having the chicks, now pretty much grown, nearby, but they better not get too close on the roost or they’re likely to get a peck. On Dec. 9 Miss Daisy laid her first egg, a sweet pinkish one. Time moves on.

There have been a lot of other changes in the chicken yard this year, as well. MaMa Hen, a mix-breed banty and the most senior of the residents, died on Nov. 11 – which was the one-year anniversary of Miss Chicken’s arrival there. And Billie died. Miss Chicken’s new best friend is Cutie, a standard Pendescenca, with whom she enjoys dusting and even sharing space on the roost. And now there is new drama unfolding, as a hawk has been circling above, a potential threat to the smallest of the chickens in residence. But Joan is taking great precautions, with the assistance of Buddy, the crow – but that story will have to wait for another time.

I am so happy that the Nolans opened their home for wayward chickens to Miss Chicken after we reluctantly concluded that our Christmas visitor needed a safer place to live. Joan says of our gal: “For me, it was love at first sight. Even though she had her own way and did whatever she pleased, I just felt she would blend in nicely and enjoy being with my flock of chickens. And that is just what has come to pass.”

This Christmas visitor of ours has achieved acceptance, some independence and a warm and loving home where she still gets to throw around a little bit of attitude. A very nice present at this time of year, don’t you think?

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@ comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/ columnists.


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