Archive for Animal lore


Chickens & Spring

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This year we wintered over our back-yard chicken. Now I grew up on a chicken farm during the 50’s so I know a lot about chickens, however we never wintered them over. It was not economical; we purchased a new flock of baby chicks every year.

This time I watched our hen settle down into winter by first ceasing to lay eggs, then she started molting. This means she loses a lot of her feathers all at the same time. I was shocked by how many feathers she had piling up under her roost, and scattered around in her pen! Apparently it bothered me enough that I had a dream about her running out of the chicken house half naked! Well it never went that far, thankfully!

Henrietta was decidedly less lovely to look at in winter. Not only was she straggly looking with scant feathers, the pin feathers that grew in were white ‘pins’ sticking out all over her head and neck between the feathers that remained. She acted subdued and droopy during the dark days of winter – but then so do I!

Finally, as the days started to get longer, and we no longer saw anymore pin feathers sticking out white against her reddish brown feathers, she perked up! Henny started rearranging the straw in her nest and digging up places in her pen for a dust bath. Then one morning she did not race out of her house when the door was opened. She was sitting quietly on her nest in the back of the chicken house. We left her alone.

Later that morning, when she was back out in the yard, we opened up the nest box and found not one egg but three eggs! YAY! This means Spring is on the way for sure! If we had a rooster (not allowed in Denver County) she would have chicks by Easter! What a lovely surprise for a morning we had run out of eggs anyway. Since then Henny is back to laying an egg a day, and struts around her yard looking glossy, happy, and proud! Yay Henrietta! You ARE a Spring Tonic for me!


Robin Redbreast in Distress

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Yesterday my neighbor across the street called me up in the middle of the afternoon.

“You want to see something really bizarre? ” he said. “Well, maybe not bizarre…there’s a Robin caught in the apricot tree, would you come over and help me get her loose? She’s tangled up in some string.”

Of course I went right over after making sure I had a clean, soft cotton handkerchief in my pocket.

At first, I couldn’t see Ms Robin. (Yes, both of us called the Robin ‘she’, so…) Underneath the almost ripe apricots hanging here and there from the bowed branch, a large Robin was hanging with one leg hooked around a small dead twig. At first we thought she was pinned to the tree by the twig, her leg pierced at the joint.She was very quiet at the moment, panting heavily, her chest heaving and her eyes looking as if they were slightly bulging.

Then, detecting a new presence, she started to beat her wings as hard as possible, working herself off of the twig until she hung at another odd angle from the branch. Now I could see the very tiny string, more like a thread really, wound around both of her feet at the ankle, and wound around the small branch of the tree. It must have been a plastic fiber because even though it was very slender, she couldn’t free herself. Although no bigger than a decent sized cobweb strand, it just wouldn’t break no matter how hard she struggled.

Maybe we could lop off the branch and then untangle her? As my neighbor went to find pruners or something, I just kept watching Ms Robin, holding the handkerchief in my hand. I wanted to wrap her up in the cloth so that she would stop struggling. If I could hold her around the wings, then we could see what needed to be done without hurting her.

I started doing a little hummy noise under my breath and focused on carefully moving closer while she was trying to untangle herself. She was almost out of her mind already, so I just wanted to sooth her and calm her down. Suddenly she stopped moving and was hanging directly upside down under the branch.

I reached forward quickly with the handkerchief between my hands and surrounded her terrified little body. Her heart was beating like a trip-hammer, but she was quiet. I asked my friend for scissors as I tried to loosen the thread around her tough little ankles with my pinkies while waiting. I kept murmuring to her, hoping it would be a comfort, and praying it wasn’t making it worst.

My friend carefully snipped the tiny bits of super strong thread that held Ms Robin to the branch. Then he clipped what threads he could without cutting the leathery skin on her ankles and finally her feet were free! I walked out from under the overhanging branches of the apricot tree and gently tossed Robin up in the air.  She made it to the top of the wooden fence next door in a couple of wing beats.

We watched her sit still, with her beak open, panting from the exertion and fright of being bound to a tree. A dish of water was set out close by, but not so close as to scare her further. After awhile, I went home. She wasn’t moving from that fence until she gathered her strength back and I didn’t want her to worry about my presence.

Blessings Robin! May you live long and prosper!


The Woodchuck

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Summer has opened her eyes and settled over the backyard with the  sweet scent of iris in full bloom and roses just starting. It is the time when everyone wants to hurry and finish the garden, lie in the shade of the new leaves fully opened, and dream of the ol’ swimming hole. It is the time when stories of summers past flit through my head again. The one I will share with you here takes place in the early ’50’s on our new farm in upper New York State.

My Mother brought some favorite flowers and plants with her to the farm when we moved. She had brought some of them from her family home in the South to New Jersey when she married, then transplanted them again to the farm. Some were planted in the front yard, and some behind the house where they were to hide an ugly bank of dirt and weeds. The best place to see the large rose bush and other familiar beauties was from the bathroom window, and was a wonderful view from “the Throne” as we called it.  It was one of Mother’s pride and joy patches that she cared for very much.

One day she noticed a brand new pile of earth in the middle of her back flower bed. It didn’t take much examination to determine it was a new woodchuck hole! This made her both mad and determined. Up until that point I had always seen my Mother as a quiet and peaceful person…then the big, fat woodchuck dug a burrow in her beautiful, precious flowers!

The next morning, fairly early, I found her in the bathroom, sitting on the closed “throne” in the bathroom. My eyes got wider and wider because the window screen was out on the floor, the window sash was all the way up, and she had a 22 rifle balanced on her lap. She motioned me to be quiet and stay still.

Gazing out the window, her eyes intent on her flower bed, she brought the rifle up to her shoulder. It felt like my mouth was hung open to my chest since I didn’t even know my Mother could shoot! There came the head of the groundhog out of his hole. Mother didn’t move a muscle. There was the chest of the groundhog and the two front feet on the edge of the hole. Still Mom sat perfectly still.

That woodchuck, full of confidence and greed, sat up on the edge of the hole fully exposed. BAM!! He never knew what hit him.  Mother had placed a shot dead between his eyes and knocked him back down his hole! After putting the gun away, she grabbed a shovel and buried him where he lay, muttering something about “That’ll teach ’em not to dig in my flower bed!”

On an overgrazed, poor, rough and stoney sheep farm at the beginning of Summer, I learned that a place of beauty was worth killing a groundhog to protect. I also learned not to underestimate my Mother! After that, I sometimes heard my Father call her ‘Dead-Shot Annie’!