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.
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