A couple of weeks ago, our backyard was swarming with chickens. One night a mother hen of about 8 chicks disappeared. Just earlier that day, she had been conducting her life as she had for so long. At times, clucking around in search of food, other times resting with all of her babies huddled up beneath her belly. Life was business as usual.
By nightfall, that would all change. It was storming, which means that any noise in our yard is obliterated by the rainfall on our tins roofs. There could be an entire orchestra playing just outside of our windows, and there could be no way for us to know. So whether or not this mother hen made a fuss, it would not have mattered.
My host mother believes that someone came into our yard and stole her. I don’t doubt her, not one bit. There were no feathers, or any real sign of struggle that would indicate a predator coming in to kill and eat her. But sometimes I wonder if, during that stormy night, she had a little too much time to think. With 8 sleeping babies wearing her down each day, demanding every ounce of her attention, maybe it got to be too much. Perhaps she realized that the storm outside was a direct reflection of the storm inside of her, and she had to get out. With the pressure mounting, she broke. She flew the coup.
Whatever the reason for the disappearance, it had a devastating impact on the community. With the mother hen gone, 8 little chickadees dwindled down to 7, then to 5, to 4, then to 3 ... I knew they wouldn’t survive, but I didn’t realize just how they would stop surviving. I saw their numbers fall, but not how they were falling. Then one day, I noticed that the 2 remaining chicks tried to join another group of chicks that still had their mother. The mother became mad, and attacked one of the chicks, killing it. At that moment, in my mind, chickens had lost their innocence. I understand that perhaps they never truly had innocence; innocence is probably all just an illusion anyway.
A couple of days later, I saw the remaining chick hanging around one of the three almost grown-up chickens. It was trying to slip under the older chicken when it was resting, and I noticed that the chicken didn’t care. I didn’t understand- why did this one tolerate it? From what I learned of chickens within the last few days, they didn’t strike me as the altruistic type. This almost grown-up chicken was not letting the chick stick around out of the goodness of its heart. Then my host mother told me that the three almost grown-up chickens were sick. That explained why it was letting the little chick climb all over it. The next day, all three of those chickens died. With the only friend it had left dying, and killer hen roaming around- the last chick had very little reason to stick around, and even more reason to leave. But a lone chick is hardly equipped to deal with this harsh world.
Through the course of events, there was only one grown hen remaining with her 5 chicks to look after. She was the killer hen. About a week ago, she and her family disappeared also. It is another mystery to me where they went. Perhaps, guilt ridden, and paranoid of being found out, she planned an escape. Exactly who she was afraid of being found out by is but another obscurity to this human peering in on a chicken’s world.
I can’t imagine her plan panned out very well. After all, it is a rough world for a chicken- especially a single mother chicken of 5. I doubt she reached whatever destination she aimed for. With all these dogs and cars around, the odds are grim. I have a dour feeling that she may also have been captured, and her chicks sold into chick slavery. It is a cruel world, but who is to say whether any one of those players would have done anything different if the roles were exchanged.
Within three weeks, the chicken population of my backyard went from approximately 18 chicks and chickens, to 0. I was completely unaware that the lives of chickens were so complex and dramatic- filled with mystery, mayhem and murder. I can’t say that it surprises me, as life is life and life is hard- regardless of the level you happen to be playing on.