My wife and I have, it seems, become surrogate parents to a family of chickens. I know, I know. We shouldn’t do that. Best to leave them be or just chase them away, say the chicken haters.
But we are weak.
For the past few months, we have sort of adopted a mother hen and her six chicks (used to be seven). We watched them grow from tiny fuzz balls to medium-sized chickens. It’s guaranteed that each morning, about 6:30, this brood will march on to our lanai.
I have noticed, our chicken family is getting impatient — and bold — if we keep them waiting for their morning feeding, which is nothing more the bird seed we buy at Ace Hardware or Kmart. They don’t just stand back, timidly, chirping, waiting. No, usually led by mom, they charge boldly up to the screen door and stare inside, raising the noise factor when they see me sitting at the table, reading and drinking coffee. There is nowhere to hide and hope they go away.
I have no choice. I feed them.
They seem to know we like them.
Even when I push open the screen door, the chicks don’t flee. They scurry around and yes, in between my feet, once even pecking at my toes. The mother watches carefully, making a “tuck-tuck” noise that I read about somewhere that apparently is a signal to her family my wife and I are a good source of food. So, we must watch our steps when we walk to the yard to feed them.
The food goes quickly.
The chickens, along with doves, devour the bird seed in minutes, amid some squawking and chasing and roosters showing who’s the boss. It’s a good show. I recognize, now, the pecking order of things. Some roosters and hens keep their distance, sneaking in for some seed. A few roosters will give chase after those they don’t seem to like or approve of, for reasons I have no idea. For those chickens on the outside, I throw the seed farther.
Occasionally, we feed them in the afternoon, but I warned my wife we shouldn’t spoil them. They have to be able to fend for themselves, I say. They shouldn’t rely on us. But, as I said, we’re weak. The other afternoon when a large, angry crowd formed in our yard, and seemed ready to riot, we tossed out some seeds to pacify them. It worked, temporarily.
I went back inside. Perhaps five minutes later, I glanced up to see the mother peering in the window, standing on the plastic bin of my running shoes on the lanai. She was staring at me. She left no doubt what she wanted. More.
“No. Go away,” I yelled.
She didn’t flinch. Just stared. She knew.
I tossed out more feed.
“That’s it,” I declared.
Really, I meant it this time and held my ground.
The babies, which used to follow mom’s lead, no longer wait for her. This morning, All six of them, with mom still in the yard, were milling around the lanai, with a few even perched on a green chair and if they sit on the back of it, they can see inside the house. Their mother taught them well.
We’ve actually become quite attached to the chickens. I’m pretty sure they keep the cockroaches and centipedes from our home. And their late night and early morning cries have become, believe it or not, a welcome sound. My wife isn’t quite as enthralled with them, but she’s the one who usually goes to Ace or Kmart for the bird seed, so really, the chickens should thank her.
I’m sure, when the roosters crow with great gusto outside our house, that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Bill Buley is editor-in-chief of The Garden Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.