Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Another black australorp, brooding

"Where is Ninja?"

For a good five minutes, I examined the different parts of my yard: the lilac bush, the smaller hen houses, the garden beds, the underneath of the trampoline. Nothing. I started peering anxiously over the fence into the yard where my neighbor's eighteen year-old greyhound lives, scanning the ground for torn feathers or the unidentifiable lump of black that might turn out to be my missing bird. No Ninja.

I looked back at the hens again. There was Henny Penny. There was Sasquatch. There was Ostrich—all of them, eating scraps of kitchen leavings in the mounds of golden straw; very definitely three and not four birds. My little black chicken, I concluded, had been abducted by aliens. Mild panic set in.

After a minute of helpless contemplation, a thought occurred to me. I opened up the side panel of the hen house and there she was in the nest box, laying her egg at an unscheduled time. I thought first, Whatever, Chicken and then, Thank God. Problem solved. My heart slowly dropped backed down to a normal rate.

"I thought the chicken was lost!" I told my husband as I came in from the yard.

The next morning at scrap-time, the chicken was in the nest box again.

"Why are you laying your egg at breakfast time?"  I asked her. "You're missing strawberry tops and asparagus stems."

She looked at me, with that particular black australorp gentleness, like a chicken empath, and then settled back to her business, ignoring my intrusion on her work.

The next morning was the same. When I went out to clean the coop later on, I finally wised up. The chicken, at 1 PM, was still in the nest box.

"Devin!" I yelled. "This chicken is brooding!"

I reached my hand into the nest box to pet her and all the feathers puffed out in a ridiculous porcupine-puffer fish-chicken show of maternal protectiveness. A guttural percussive warning uttered from deep within her belly.

"Good grief," I said. Devin and Mikalh came over to look.

I lifted her up, just slightly, and saw that she was sitting on a clutch of everybody's unfertilized eggs, which we hadn't picked up since she'd been on them every morning I went out.

"Will she have chicks?" Devin asked me.

"Devin," I explained "we have no rooster."

"Why does she need a rooster so she can sit on her eggs?" he asked, thoughtfully.

Somehow, my children's understanding of human procreation has never quite extended to the avian world. I explain it repeatedly and yet it just won't stick. There is an egg, you see, and from it should come chicks. This is just basic knowledge. They are highly skeptical of my attempts to convince them otherwise.

"Let's get a rooster!" suggested Mikalh, helpfully.

Yes, because there is no situation that cannot be improved by an aggressive, strutting rooster who will crow and wake up the neighborhood in the wee hours of each morn.

Something smelled. Underneath the eggs Ninja was sitting on, one had broken and, with the warmth of her body, was emitting quite a reek.

"I have to get this chicken out," I told the kids. "Poor chicken."

Since no chicks were imminent, they lost interest and ran off to play basketball.

I lifted up poor Ninja, who had torn her belly feathers out and lamely placed some of them around the eggs all streaked with drying yolk. She made the guttural sound again and puffed up like a blown-up chicken balloon but did not peck me. She is just too gentle a girl. I set her in the straw where, right away, she began looking for an insect to eat without laying her feathers down.

I cleaned out all the broken egg and set aside the others for tossing while each of the other hens climbed into the nest box to personally find out what I was doing and see if they could be of any help.

"You're in my way," I told them.

This was in no way a problem for them. Coop cleanings are just about their favorite things.

The rest of the day, Ninja wandered the yard, eating and drinking normally and otherwise doing the chicken things she'd neglected recently but all the time puffed up to twice her normal size. The other hens followed her like a Greek chorus and offered commentary. I guess this must have gotten to be a bit much because later on, I found her having hopped the fence into my backyard, where she was wandering around with my dog.

"Poor Ninja," I told her.

She looked at me thoughtfully, with her usual Bodhisattva quality.

It took a couple of days to convince her that she wasn't going to hatch out eggs. She would seem to be broken of the habit and then somebody laid an egg in the nest box again and there she was, settled on everything.

You will sometimes hear people say that so-and-so "is brooding" over something. I never fully appreciated this before. This is quite what we are like. We are distracted perhaps for a moment, by a familiar touch and the possibility of an insect in the straw, but then something just seems to be missing for us. We are crying for meaning. So back to the nest box we go—to our self-imposed fast and dehydration and we'll sit here on this damn idea until something living comes from it! If someone tries to offer comfort, we'll puff up in otherworldly shapes, utter strange cries to tell them to get out of here. We think something important is happening.

But, no, it's just us—sitting on a clutch of ideas that will never break their shells.


  1. At some point you'll have enough chicken stories to comprise a book which will be very funny as well as insightful.

    A friend of mine used to refer to my quiet thinking moments as "brooding" while her own pensive states she called "mind surfing."

    1. Chickens makes surprisingly interesting muses.

  2. Oh I like that idea! A book full of chicken stories like these! Perfect!

    1. Instead of "Chicken Soup for the Soul," "Chicken Coops for the Soul." :)

  3. Poor Ninja. It's unspeakably sad, somehow. This hen insistently doing what she knows to do, desperately drawn to those infertile, rotting eggs. Sigh.

    1. I know. It does strike me that way. I wanted to just let her go for her until I realized she was stinking the place up. Poor little thing. She's such a sweet bird. She's the one who loves when we sing "Sixteen Tons" to her. I adore her.

  4. Definitely, a book of chicken stories has to be published! I love your chicken posts! I'm trying to visualize a hen mesmerized by "Sixteen Tons," which was a popular song when I was a teenager! LOL!

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  6. "So back to the nest box we go—to our self-imposed fast and dehydration and we'll sit here on this damn idea until something living comes from it!"
    I didn't know I was so much like a chicken!

  7. One of my grandmother's chickens did this once--with the same accidentally-broken-egg-stink-up-the-whole-place result. You are wise to avoid roosters--my grandparents had one for a while that was hatched out of my seventh grade science fair project eggs. He was gorgeous, but aggressive and loud and may have had some form of dementia-induced cross-species sexual attraction as we never really saw him "engaging" with hens, but he would frequently try to "woo" my grandmother's lady friends by chasing them around the yard and running up the backs of their legs, succeeding mostly in terrifying them all.

    1. Galliforms really can be eccentric! When I was researching for my bird aliens, I learned that sage grouse in the frenzy of lekking can sometimes attempt to mate with cowpats!


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