Saturday, November 5, 2011


CAN ANYTHING BE MORE SATISFYING than getting the last chicken into the coop as the sun is going down? About half of our chickens prefer to roost high in the apple tree, so we have to encourage them in all sorts of ways to come into the safety of the aviary. One big encouragment is, of course, food. I feed them some in the morning, then let them out to scratch in the yard and they snap up all sorts of snacks—bugs; greens of Dandelion, Clover, Queen Anne's Lace; Apples; the meats of Walnuts that have been cracked by squirrels or by being backed over by the car. In fact, the flock spends the bulk of their days quietly grazing, tails up, beaks to the ground, making satisfied clucking sounds. Still, when they see me walking toward the aviary with a big, galvanized metal scoop, they'll come running. And if you haven't seen a chicken run toward you, you should come out at feeding time.
Sammy Runs

“Chicken Dark” is what we call the time of day when the sun is about to set and the chickens head back to their coop while they can still see. Chickens really do go home to roost,  but we sometimes have a difference of opinion about where “home” is. In the mornings, after Ursula has had her run, I prop open the aviary door and let the chickens out for the day. For now we can either have free-range chickens or a free-range dog. Maybe someday we'll have both, and one of these days I'll tell you about our journey toward a peaceable kingdom at Birdland. The birds have their day in the yard, while Ursula watches from the window. With careful supervision (preferably by at least two of us) she can play fetch. She is increasing her vocabulary and learning the fine distinctions between “frisbee” and “chicken.” She is also learning impulse control, and we can see it in her eyes when she is about to bolt, and take off to the chicken side of the yard. Most of the time we can redirect her, but occasionally, chaos ensues, and we run for the garden hose as a defense of chicken territory.

The flock spends the bulk of their days quietly grazing, tails up, beaks to the ground,
making satisfied clucking sounds. 

In the evenings, if I can get home before chicken dark, I carry another scoop of food, and most of the flock will follow me into the pen. A few stragglers will circle around the aviary, and this is where an extra person can help. One person can hold open the door, while the other herds the flock clockwise around the aviary. With each circle, a few more slip through the door to safety for the night. The old, red rooster gets curious and tries to come out, and that is where a rake is convenient. It's a trick to block his exit while encouraging the stragglers to come in.

If we wait too long, half a dozen of the hens will be perched in the apple tree. A few will hop down when they see me coming with the scoop, but 3 or 4 will hop up a little higher into the tree. In summer, the leaves provide a little shelter from the weather, and hide them from predators. But now the leaves are falling. We have a variety of chickens, and though a sharp-eyed owl would probably see the moonlight glinting off of the beak of one of the brown hens, we have two white ones who like to roost in the tree. Even to my failing, human eyesight they look like bright neon signs that say “Free Lunch” to any nighttime predator. The flock has thinned since they began this habit, so I do my best to discourage it. Sometimes the ruckus below gets them curious enough that they will fly down and get caught up in the frenzy of snack time, but sometimes they pretend not to notice. That's when the garden hose comes in handy.

Roost in Beauty; Shelter Peace; Blessed Be.


  1. Oh, good...the flock at Birdland! I'm so glad you posted this. They're beautiful birds, aren't they, and an adventure all their own.


  2. Thanks, so much Sue! Yes, they are adventurous, and an adventure.