There’s a true “pecking order” that’s developing in my back yard. And, all I have to do is be patient and watch it unfold moment by moment.
Talking “chickens” here! Real live feathered fowl that brighten up the darkest day by running downhill the second I open the hen-house door and latch it to stay open for the day. Out they rush, like race horses at the starting gate to beat one another to the finish line down the hillside of my Conshohocken, PA, home. In the Philadelphia area, “Conshy” and Manayunk have some of the hilliest mounds this side of Jack and Jill’s outing for a pail of water.
Have to invite friends over to make bets on which one hits bottom first. All slow down as they reach the narrow stairs. Two bushy banks greet them and stall their progress. The chickens must funnel onto the steps where it’s so much fun for to watch them hop, skip and jump over ten concrete steps to get to the patio below.
Where I have just spread chicken feed and black oil seeds over the ground, not to mention wild bird seed in a convenient plastic tray for birds, squirrels and others who might seek a free meal with some degree of protection from predators. Don’t forget the double barrels in the corner of the more elevated patio. The smaller rests on the larger wooden barrel. A rubber hose connected to an electrical pump shoots water up and into a hole in the first container, which passes its overflow to the larger one below. It’s a continuous motion of running water until drying out, or if some foreign object clogs the suction device at the submerged motor.
Hillary, the smartest of all the hens, ran to the top barrel, sipping and lifting her head to swallow. Birds do that. Gather water in their beaks and tilt their heads to aid the flow using gravity. (I’m no “bird-man,” but it seems to make sense to me!) The hen I named the “Lone Ranger” climbs to the top of the lower barrel. She’s deferring to her mother, Hillary. She’s the lone white chicken we kept out of eight, including her sire, “Sombitch” Rooster, four other nearly adult roosters, and two hens. All with the color genes from that mean white bird. Hope they got some of his fighting techniques. They’re living in the wild in nearby Roxborough, in a wooded section of Philadelphia. All the animals are what are called “free rangers,” in that they’re allowed to walk around and not stay cooped up in cages.
The other “senior” hen, Michelle, approaches for water, alighting to the top of the bottom barrel. First thing she does is peck at the Lone Ranger, who moves over, but continues to drink. The three of have been together for nearly four seasons. They’ve “bonded” enough to sleep, eat and waddle in the bushes together.
Not so with the two “interlopers,” Midnight and Red Eye, the ones hatched late this past spring. Midnight is black. How black, you may ask? She’s got iridescent blue feathers upon black feathers. Kinda like the color of Superman’s hair in the old Comic Books. Everyone knew his hair was black, but to make it stand out even more, the “colorist” or painter, made it a standout shade of blue. She was the first one hatched, and rescued from the chicken coop several days after birth, wandering as a baby chick away from the older chickens and rooster it lived with. We added her to our makeshift “chick” nursery where she hooked up with the second most colorful one, Red Eye, whose basic coloring is auburn red. Red feathers appear close to her eyes, hence the name “Red Eye.” (Red Eye has caught and eaten at least two mice. Stole one from the clutches of our cat, Sundance, when the feline was playing with its captive critter and not looking at the nearby birds. Midnight tried to battle the red headed hen for the delicacy, but Red Eye ran like a wide receiver with a football clutched not in its arms, but in its trusty beak.) Neither of the new ones got the exact coloring of the hens they came from. Hillary is a light tan, while Michelle’s a medium shade of brown.
But both of the new ones know their place. And if they don’t give way, the older hens will simply look in their direction and they scoot. I’m sure this reflex action comes from weeks together in the hen house, where the youngest quickly learn to follow orders or else. All but the Lone Ranger are friendly with me, the substitute rooster. The Ranger had little or no contact with anyone except his mother hen for the longest time. We didn’t know its gender. Was white like the Rooster, so my son, Nicholas, and I thought we had a Sombitch Jr. to contend with. But, it grew into a hen that never warmed up to any friendly or more compassionate male, and prefers the company of the more gentle sex.
I feel the same way most days. Wanting to be with the gentlest among us. Not the meek, but the gentler ones. Those who offer love and compassion no matter where or when someone might have been hatched.