I do not have a good history with birds. Growing up in Orange County, the only birds I knew were the mourning doves on the telephone lines outside my window, calling sadly through the night. There were also seagulls at the beach, but they were notorious for aiming when eliminating. A splat on the head from a seagull can never be washed all the way clean, no matter how long your head is under the hose. Trust me on this.
Up close and personal, my childhood friend, Judy McKenzie, had a pet parakeet that she introduced me to one day. It was sick and seemed so fragile: all feather and air, and no substance. Indeed, it was worse than fragile. As I held it tenderly, its little head flopped to one side, dead as a doornail.
With that less-than-desirable bird history, I entered bird ownership with some trepidation last year. My teenage daughter had her heart set on getting chicks, raising them to hens and presto: a lifetime supply of eggs! When the week-old chicks arrived, we kept them indoors, with a heating lamp, in a large dog crate. They often clustered in a corner, a multicolored feathered bundle of peeping mouths. My daughter could scoop them all together, their anxious wiry legs hanging down between her fingers.
The chicks grew up, and indeed, laid eggs. At least some of them did. Two turned out to be roosters even though they had been “sexed” as females at the hatchery. One rooster was big and bold and bossy, and he went off to a local feed shop that buys and resells barn animals. The remaining chickens fed from our hands, endured being picked up and petted, and were entertaining to the whole family.
The other rooster, a glorious, shiny specimen of poultry if there ever was one, ruled the remaining eight hens. He rounded them up, when they let him, and strutted alongside them when they didn’t. He was noisy and sometimes mean. He mated roughly enough for me to convince my daughter that he should be separated from the hens. Now he spends his days above and around the hen yard, crowing and clucking to the hens, though he cannot reach them.
He keeps his eye on me instead. Perhaps he intuits that I am the reason he never gets a date anymore. Or he has a sixth sense that I have proposed—on more than one occasion—that he be sent to the same feed store as his brother.
Whatever the reason, Scout stares me down as I travel past him to collect eggs, puffing out his chest. He fixes one beady eye on me when I scatter millet or greens. If I try to touch a hen, he jumps. Once, when he and a hen were in the pen together, I bent down to remove the hen. In an instant, Scout flew at my back. If I carry a rake past him he takes it as an invitation to spar, or joust or whatever the term is for flying at me as I swing a rake/hoe/shovel, sometimes smacking him, sometimes not. Once he charged me for the gross offense of carrying a bicycle helmet.
He does have his uses, however. Before he was banished from the hens, he fathered some chicks. They are half grown and pretty, clustered together like their mothers did. They aren’t old enough to display sex characteristics yet, but I am watching for red on the beak and drooping tail feathers along with attempted crowing. We won’t add any more roosters.
One is more than enough.