animal psychology, Birds

Winter Visitors

No one is allowed visitors. We aren’t allowed visitors except for Liz, Bill’s sister (she’s in our bubble) but today in aid of Granny’s mental health we went for a walk in Peterborough. Why would anyone want to go for a walk in Peterborough? Not even around the cathedral. Just a Sunday constitutional — an elderly couple walking 20 feet behind a young couple with a little boy — shouted greetings — shared townscapes — a visit to the duck-pond. These little things make all the difference! But, do you know, we are noticing other winter visitors!

Greylag Geese dropped in from Iceland.

Did you know that these gregarious, noisy birds (sounding like a pack of hounds) make long term monogamous bonds and the divorce rate is only 5-8%(I don’t know how we know) and 14-20% are in same sex relationships. Their sexual orientation is flexible — widower ganders may re-pair with females (who are smaller). Large homosexual couples often have dominant positions in the flock and may act as guardians. You don’t have to watch geese for very long to realize how cautious they are and how mindful of potential threats. As they move around the available grazing in the local park individuals are watching the humans and the dogs and leading the others in defensive phalanxes.

In the last couple of weeks we have noticed some other winter visitors, photographed by Bill Branford (BY-NC-ND 2.0), mainly on Pitsford reservoir.

Here is a beautiful smew from the end of last winter — seen at Rutland Water

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animal psychology, poultry, Small Holding

High-Rise Chickens!

High-rise Chickens — My very good friend is married to the Chicken Whisperer. Their smallholding is Paradise on Earth for world weary hens, and some ducks and geese. They live in a woodland glade with a babbling brook and ponds that can be emptied and refilled at the turn of a stop-cock. Everywhere is cottage garden and orchards with tumbling verdura and magic, mossy, stone walls sprouting ferns and navelwort. Here is the ultimate gated community with little houses for the various feathered cohorts, groups of birds with special bonds of species, family or long association.

They all return to their own homes at dusk to be locked securely in until dawn, when they are free to potter in the gardens and browse on nature’s bounty or feed from the bowls of delicious and varied porridges that my friend prepares under instruction from the Whisperer and which cater for their special dietary needs.

A few weeks ago a hen disappeared. Searches were instituted. The ground was scanned for feathers. Every nook and cranny was probed – no hen was found. Security was reviewed; electric fences and nocturnal patrols were discussed. Then she re-appeared!

She was not alone; behind her marched seven chicks, brooded in secret and now displayed to the world. But every night, just before dusk, they disappeared again.

My friend and her husband hid in the bushes, peeped around trees and skulked in the lane but could not find their hiding place.

Every morning in trepidation they counted the chicks. Every morning there were seven – now almost as big as their mother. The Whisperer and his wife were wan with sleeplessly anxiety about this stubborn mother hen and her at-risk offspring out in the night to be smelled out by a fox.

‘What they need is a new house – their own place!’ Timber was purchased, and roofing felt and dowelling for perches, door furniture and hundreds more nails and screws than were actually needed (that’s hardware retail for you these days). Digging and levelling, sawing and hammering ensued. It took a couple of weeks in the rain and wind, dodging falling branches as Hurricane Ophelia came and went. Still every morning seven chicks would appear and march in step past the work in progress.

Then humane traps were constructed and baited deliciously (these chicks were not stupid) and the Whisperer knew that it had to be all or nothing –  mother hen and every single chick or no-one. To leave one or two chicks alone in the wild night was unthinkable. Catching them all took enormous concentration and time (two whole days) and lots and lots of treats. But Bingo! They were all caught and decanted into their beautiful new home. They were shut in for two days and two nights (a lot in chicken-time). ‘That should be enough,’ said the Whisperer, confident that now they would return each night to their secure and luxurious new accommodation..

However, they did not.  On the third day, at dusk, their coop was empty: no mother hen, no chicks!

But hey, what’s this?  Upwardly mobile chickens!   Not very clear photos, but they are all up in one of the tallest trees. That’s right, you can see the top of a telegraph pole which gives away their altitude and the falling leaves have denuded their cover.

Arboreal Chickens – what next?

 

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