Since Violet’s at outdoor school, caring for the chickens is left to me. There’s almost nothing to it; give them some grain, change the water…that’s basically it. But each morning, even before I arrive, they’re watching. Such curious birds, our chickens seem to wait with eager anticipation for what is surely the most excitement around the coop all day.
Their names are Flora and Althea. They’re both lovely, with pretty patterned black and white feathers, but Flora’s feathers boast a greenish poof for a tail and she has floppy red skin under her chin where the other bird does not. On the day they arrived, Flora was the one I just had to hold, because (despite being the same breed, probably sisters) the other one, Althea, was relatively boring looking.
Today, after a few minutes hanging out with the chickens, I realized, Althea is actually the smart one. She’s more friendly, adventurous and even daring than her more looks-y cohort. Althea’s the boss.
Althea and Flora, both ever-curious, bok-boked at me this morning, from the farthest corner of the coop, until Althea decided I was non-threatening enough for inspection. What they both really wanted was the fresh water and feed on the other side of me, but first they seemed to have an extended debate as to how they could safely get past.
After a couple fake-outs, where they’d come close and in a mild panic, circle back around into that farthest corner (for more bok-bok debate/pep-talk), Althea finally came up to me, looked me up and down and marched right on by.
Flora, horrified to be left alone on one side of the coop without her other, gave me a quicker once-over, then bolted towards her friend on the far side. Meanwhile Althea, barely paying attention anymore to the harmless intruder, discovered a circular leaf, a deep autumn red that had been stuck to the water container since I brought it in.
She picked it up with perceptible delight: Althea took the little red leaf in her beak and trotted in two big circles around the coop, as if saying to Flora, “Ha ha ha ha ha look what I’ve got, neener neener!”
And Flora wasn’t happy about that, not one bit. She followed the other bird in haste – yet still with great caution, giving me plenty of space. (Maybe she remembers me accosting her that first day.) At any rate, Flora couldn’t get to the leaf and when Althea was done showing off, she swallowed it whole.
Suddenly, I found myself pondering what a curse it must be, to be so pretty. Even for a chicken! Poor Flora, so tormented for her irresistible beauty, that she grew up to be jumpy, anxious, fearful and paranoid (even for a chicken). And Althea… Well, Althea’s tough.
Before too long, Peaches (the pit) came down to see what was keeping me in the chicken coop. She sniffed around the perimeter, pausing first by Flora, for an intense stare-down. Flora stood tall and puffed up her lion’s mane of neck feathers, holding her ground before decidedly turning away, walking off in a huff. Then Peaches came to Althea.
Althea isn’t as tall as Flora, nor does she have the magnificent neck feathers for puffing, but Althea got right up to the edge of the coop, beak to nose with the dog. No doubt, Peaches could practically taste the bold chicken.
Suddenly, with a quick thrust of the head, Althea bit her! Right through the mesh wall, which naturally sent Peaches into retreat… And brings us to our chicken-led lesson of the day: It doesn’t always pay to be the prettiest.
UPDATE ~ 11.9.2010:
It’s 6:25 in the morning and still dark out. Dad and I were enjoying a moment on the back deck a few minutes ago, when to our astonishment, a muddled “cock-a-doodle-do” just eeked out from the coop.
We looked at each other like, “Did that just happen?”
As if reading our minds, the damn chicken did it again, with assertion. It continued repeating itself five or six times.
Turns out, Flora is a dude.