altivo: Blinking Altivo (altivo blink)
[personal profile] altivo
Some may have seen me talking about this on Twitter during the summer.

Last May two stray hens (no idea where they came from) started laying eggs in one of our barns. One of them had nested in stacked hay bales, the other on the flat top of a tack room (enclosed closet) about 8 feet above the floor. Both eventually sat on eggs for about 8 weeks without hatching any, and we removed the potential stink bomb eggs and figured that was that.

It wasn't, though. About a month after that (mid-August) we saw one of the two hens moving about our property with a brood of live chicks. She had nested again and this time succeeded in hatching out 8 live chicks. There was some attrition as days went on, and she was down to only 6, and then 5 chicks. However, those remaining chicks have flourished and are now feathered out and have grown to the size of turkey poults or about 8 inches beak to tail. They can fly short distances and find their own food, though they are still sticking around with mom.

The other hen (who sat diligently in the hay on a single egg for 8 weeks) kept appearing on the outskirts of the group, though mom hen would drive her away if she got too close. That one (white faced where mom has red on her face) was not, as far as we could tell, sitting on eggs. She did start a new nest in August, in the hay in the other barn, but I took the eggs away and after 3 or 4 she gave it up.

However, she has reappeared today. Apparently she had laid some number of eggs on a workbench in the arena, one that Gary rarely uses and it is just piled with clutter and dust. I was out there cleaning Tess's stall which is just on the other side of a wall from it, and I could hear chicks peeping and a hen buck-bucking to them. It took me a while to spot them, because I hunted all over the floor and in corners and under things instead of on top of stuff. Sure enough, she was on the workbench and though I couldn't see chicks, I could hear them peeping from under her.

When I went back into Tess's stall, there was one running around on the floor. Evidently it was the first to risk leaving the nest. I couldn't catch it, and probably couldn't have got near the mother without being attacked, so I let it be.

Here is the hen, sitting in near darkness on the workbench:



This evening when I went out to feed horses, all the chicks were out of the nest and mom was leading them around and scratching for them to peck. There were 7 healthy chicks, and I suspect that includes the precocious one who was still sitting on the floor peeping at 3 pm.

Domestic birds often seem to be pretty slow-witted, and yet their birdbrains seem to pull them through as often as not. Sun is setting now and the new mom is sitting on her chicks in the doorway to the arena. If it rains, she'll have to move back inside somewhere. If not, she'll be there ready to forage at first light. Cats and raccoons have been less active the last few weeks, and especially in this cooler weather, so she may manage all right. I'm not sure these late chicks will survive when winter hits though. They will still be very young for that. The earlier brood may succeed.
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