Thursday, March 09, 2006

Nesting Season

When we missed Mrs. Hensley a few days ago, I told Alex not to worry. Absent a dead body or a crime scene strewn with blood and feathers, she likely was still alive and was just away on maternity leave.

Today we found her nest. She'd built it down in a dry ditch behind our property. So long as it stays dry, it's a good choice. Just up the ditchbank stands the kennel and the smell and sound of dogs keeps possums, racoons and foxes from coming near.

Mrs. Hensley is finished with her egg-laying and has gone broody. If you approach the nest, she'll fan her wings out and ruffle up in an effort to look menacing. The only time she is off of it is to get some of the grain we throw her.

Bedelia, who's a bit more free-wheeling, has not yet gone broody. She's laid only 11 eggs to Mrs. Henley's 13 and is more interested in wandering about than hatching chicks. Her nest is located in the back of the herb bed - a very good choice since the dogs know they're forbidden from going in there even when the plants are dormant. The nest is full of lovely bluish eggs. When I went to count them this morning I was reminded of the Gerald Manley Hopkins' poem in which he referred to thrush eggs as "little low heavens." I always loved that line.

So far, the only possessiveness Bedelia has shown over her eggs came on the day she discovered the rooster sitting on them. (If you look carefully at the photo to the left you can see him there, brooding the eggs.) It was a mystery to all of us as to why he would do this, especially to Bedelia. Perhaps he fancies himself a Rennaissance Rooster. Perhaps he was trying to give her a suggestion as to her nesting responsibilities. But whatever his motivation, it wasn't appreciated. Bedelia trounced him so severely for the role-reversal that for days he avoided her altogether.

If all goes well, come three weeks from now we'll wake up to the sight of a proud mother hen trailed by her brood of fluffy chicks. Hens are good mothers. They communicate in endearing little chortles and clucks and at the first sign of danger they spread their wings and the babies rush underneath. They're fiercely protective. One year we had a hawk take one of our mother hens. She could have run and saved herself, but she didn't. Instead, she mantled her wings over her brood and died for them there on the grass.

After the chicks are here, we'll have to eventually pen them up. Three or four free-roaming chickens is one thing, a dozen or more....wait, what am I saying? Everyone knows you shouldn't count your chickens before they hatch. But when and if they do, I'll let you know.


tc said...

Ah, a mother hen and her chicks....

I've got an analogy for y'all here. This is taken from the 1973 Commencement Address at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis:

"I now define "moral behavior" as "behavior that tends toward survival." I won't argue with philosophers or theologians who choose to use the word "moral" to mean something else, but I do not think anyone can define "behavior that tends toward extinction" as being "moral" without stretching the word "moral" all out of shape.

Selfishness is the bedrock on which all moral behavior starts and it can be immoral only when it conflicts with a higher moral imperative. An animal so poor in spirit that he won't even fight on his own behalf is already an evolutionary dead end; the best he can do for his breed is to crawl off and die, and not pass on his defective genes.

The next higher level is to work, fight, and sometimes die for your own immediate family. This is the level at which six pounds of mother cat can be so fierce that she'll drive off a police dog. It is the level at which a father takes a moonlighting job to keep his kids in college —and the level at which a mother or father dives into a flood to save a drowning child… and it is still moral behavior even when it fails.

Evolution is a process that never stops. Baboons who fail to exhibit moral behavior do not survive; they wind up as meat for leopards.

The next level in moral behavior higher than that exhibited by the baboon is that in which duty and loyalty are shown toward a group of your own kind too large for an individual to know all of them. We have a name for that. It is called "patriotism."

Behaving on a still higher moral level were the astronauts who went to the Moon, for their actions tend toward the survival of the entire race of mankind.

Men are expendable; women and children are not. A tribe or a nation can lose a high percentage of its men and still pick up the pieces and go on… as long as the women and children are saved. But if you fail to save the women and children, you've had it, you're done, you're through! You join Tyrannosaurus Rex, one more breed that bilged its final test.

"Patriotism" is a way of saying "Women and children first." And that no one can force a man to feel this way. Instead he must embrace it freely."

The author of the quote, of course, was Robert Heinlein, of whom I spoke to you a bit earlier in my emails.

Watch for the hawks. I've seen them pluck a small barncat up and fly away with it.

Best of luck with your chicks.

Morgan said...

Wow. And I thought I was writing about chickens. *grin*
Now I want to read Heinlen all the more. I'm off to the bookstore today to snag a copy of "Stranger in a Strange Land," and will answer your latest email this afternoon.

I know what you say of hawks. Ironically, I spent part of yesterday evening debriding flesh from a gunshot wound on the same species of hawk that killed my mother hen. A man brought the hawk to my door yesterday after finding it floundering in a field near his house. He said he heard some migrant workers - who keep chickens - shooting earlier in the day.

The bird is strong but the wound is terrible. I don't feel it can be saved and the kindest thing to do may be to put her from her misery.

It's funny, though, when I think back on the hawk and the hen. Under Heinlen's definition of "morality" the hen exhibited moral behavior in defending her chicks. Yet, the hawk that killed her likely sought to feed its own. Both were moral, and yet, what the hen did - to some - will always seem more noble.

tc said...

This is why one should always strive to understand one's enemies thoroughly. Often they have motives that can be used to defuse situations.

At least, if you understand them and detente is not possible, you can kill them without hatred.

I'm pretty sure that RAH had one thing or another to say about that, too. (As a matter of fact, I might be unwittingly [until now] paraphrasing him.) Yep, checking back, I find I stole that from The Notebooks of Lazarus Long.

Make sure to read Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, too. I've always liked it a lot better than Stranger and they were written about the same time.

Taylor said...

Morgan, you are surrounded by the beauty of God's creation. Thanks for sharing it with us. Look forward to seeing the little chickadees.

Morgan said...

"Morgan, you are surrounded by the beauty of God's creation."

We all are. We've but to see. :-)

"Look forward to seeing the little chickadees."

If all goes well we'll be overrun! I'll be sure to take lots of pictures. Chicks are very photogenic!

prettylady said...

Horrors! You have a Gamma Rooster! Don't tell VD!


Taylor said...

on the day she discovered the rooster sitting on them

Now, I'm no cock expert... BUT, it does appear like that particular cock is off his doodle. :-)

Taylor said...

Ha! See? I was right! After extensive Googling I found the technical term for this poor cock's malady: cock-a-doodle-doesn't.

Taylor said...

Now you know.

Taylor said...

Don't laugh. It's not nice to make fun of cocks.

Morgan said...

Ha, a Gamma Rooster. Of course we all know they crow the loudest, right Pretty Lady? :-)

Taylor, I had no idea there was a name for the malady. Good research. Everytime I Google "cock" I just come up with porn.

Go figure.

Taylor said...

Good research

Morgan, when one is procrastinating an unpleasant task, as I was when I posted my previous comments, one becomes surprisingly tenacious in such trivial pursuits and is thoroughly amused by them ;-)

BoysMom said...

Your hens are much cleverer than mine ever were.
Of course, mine were retired White Leghorns from the poultry farm down the road. They were never quite sure what to do with eggs.
I do hope your rooster is in other ways competent at his roosterly duties. Rotton eggs are no fun at all!
I do miss having chickens. Perhaps when the boys are bigger we will be able to afford some land in the country.

Morgan said...

We discovered yesterday that some of the eggs in Mrs. Hensley's nest were bad. We haven't investigated the rest because she won't get off the nest, but think she may have laid at least some of them before she got it on with the rooster.
We're holding out hope that a few of them will be fertile. We should know in a week.
If not, at least we know she's a broody hen and will likely do well with subsequent fertile clutches.
We had a goose who laid some infertile eggs. She was a very aggressive bird and wouldn't give up the nest until the last egg literally exploded.
You're right; chicks are fun but rotten eggs are part of the package.
I hope you eventually get the land you want. We enjoy rural life very much.

BoysMom said...

Oh, that's too bad, Morgan. I saved three-dozen eggs from my hens, back when I was a kid, and we put them in an incubator. It turned out our rooster was quite incompetent, at least at fertalizing the eggs. Only seven of the 3 dozen were fertile, and only four of those hatched. I hope yours has a much higher success rate!
We had a neighbor back then who had a goose who attempted to hatch a lightbulb. Clearly not the brightest bird in the shed.

Morgan said...

This is their first season laying, so we're trying not to get our hopes up too much. We've used an incubator in the past but I like to have at least one or two broody hens around to do the job naturally. So far, Mrs. Hensley has the whole nest-sitting thing down pat, even if her paramour shot a few blanks along the way. If worse comes to worse we'll pull the eggs and let her start again. Larry wants to pen her up so she can use the nesting box. That might not be a bad idea. Having them free is a risk and while loosing a hen under any circumstances is troublesome, loosing a broody one is especially upsetting. I haven't checked Bedelia's nest in a couple of days. Her eggs looked a lot better and she hangs out with the rooster more than Mrs. Hensley, so hopefully hers are good. Now if she'd just sit on the darn things!
I loved your anecdote about the goose trying to hatch a lightbulb. Talk about frustrating! None to bright, indeed. :-)