July 21, 2011 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Motherhood becomes Miss Chicken

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Miss Chicken is a mother.

It’s funny how this bird remains a part of my life. I truly thought that when we relocated her to a safe new home in Spokane Valley, we’d part ways, each to our own destinies. But it hasn’t worked out that way.

Miss Chicken appeared in our yard in December 2010 and lived where and how she wished in our neighborhood for a year, with feed for her left out by my neighbor and me. As winter approached again this year, we decided she needed a safer place to live – and so a nice lady named Joan came into our lives, making a home for our gal even though she already had two dozen other chickens in residence.

I was invited to visit whenever I wished. Several of you have been following Miss Chicken’s exploits as I have written about her in this newspaper and have requested updates. I really thought that my last visit, in which I described how she’s acclimated and settled in to her new life, would put an end to my reporting on this feral chicken-turned backyard pet. I mean, what more could there be to say?

But Miss Chicken continues to surprise.

Earlier this summer Joan told me that Miss Chicken, a full-sized bird of indeterminate heritage, had gotten broody. That is, she began staying in the nesting box day in and day out, coming out only briefly once a day for a bit of chow and water. And she’d squawk loudly when Joan would try to put her hand into the box.

“Clearly Miss Chicken thinks she should become a mother,” said Joan, who has been through this before with some bantams, but never with a standard-sized breed like Miss Chicken. It’s hard, but not impossible to break chickens of their broody behavior, but our gal was having none of it. With or without eggs in the nest, she wasn’t going anywhere. And the weeks went by.

Stalemate. As there were no appropriate gentlemen callers available, motherhood was not going to happen. But Joan is a kind-hearted lady and, knowing what a tenacious girl Miss Chicken is and how remarkable is her story of survival, she took pity and made a run to Aslin Finch, where a new shipment of baby chicks had arrived.

She bought two Araucanas and that evening slipped them under Miss Chicken in the nest box. Miss Chicken began to cluck excitedly and did so nonstop, which apparently is what mama chickens do with their babies. The true test would be the next morning, seeing if she accepted them as her own.

No worries there. Joan reported that come sunrise, it was quite evident that Miss Chicken had gotten her wish – motherhood, and that these two fluff balls were her babies. Joan moved the three of them to the nursery, which is a separate pen. “I have never had such a fiercely protective mother hen as Miss Chicken,” Joan said. “A pit bull wouldn’t be able to get near those babies.”

Naturally I had to visit to witness for myself how this once wild and unapproachable chicken has mellowed into motherhood. She still doesn’t love being picked up, but she tolerates it and now lets Joan handle her babies. I was fascinated to see how Miss Chicken talks to them all the time. Joan identified the different vocalizations for me – one tone to gather her babies to her, another one to call them to eat, another one sounds an alarm, etc.

Once again, city girl that I am, I had no idea.

In her latest report Joan tells me that the babies, now named Miss Daisy and Sophie, are running their mother’s legs off. They are still small enough to get through the chain link fence and into the vegetable garden, which throws Miss Chicken into a tizzy, as she can’t squeeze through with them. So she frets – not an uncommon behavior for mothers, whether they have feathers or not.

Joan said: “By the tone of her voice, I’m sure she’s scolding them and, of course, they pay no attention to her.” Ah, children. “Between 5 and 6 p.m. I put them back in the nursery pen for the night, and I swear Miss Chicken is glad to be put there so she can get some rest,” Joan added.

What mother can’t relate to that?

I have no idea if there will be another chapter in Miss Chicken’s life to share, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is. After all, she is the one and only Miss Chicken, and she’s not about to let me forget it.

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


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