Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Just Pecking Around

I blogged over a month ago about our new chicks, Meringue, Nestle and Narnia.  They have been integrated into the rest of the flock now for a couple of weeks.  The newbies are still at that cute, friendly stage where they follow people around the yard and don't mind getting in your lap.  I took the opportunity today to take pictures today of our flock of 17 with my cell phone. 

Meringue and Nestle
Everytime I tried to take a picture of the 3 chicks, Narnia would run up to me and be excluded.  So I finally just held her.

Later, the 3 little girls rested so could get my shot.

Meringue, who is the mixed color Orpington, so far is living up to her breeder's promise of becoming quite large. Her sire is reportedly a 14-pound roo. She and the little Buff Orpington, Narnia, are living up the Orpington reputation for having the best personalities. Nestle, the Black Copper Maran, is more shy.

Millie, our Mille Fleur Bantam Cochin, is the prettiest little thing, but it seems like she's always broody and sits in the nesting box a lot.  The other two bantams are Silkies and they also go broody a lot.  Cute, but poor egg layers.

Aslan, our Partridge-colored Cochin rooster, is still magnificent.  He's very good with the little ones, but the crowing commences at 4:30 am.

Chicks at the water with the rest of the flock.  Buffy, our original Buff Orpington is on the right beside Chad, the Light Brahma. The fluffy white thing on the left is Beaker, our white Silkie.

It seems that many of my Facebook friends think of me as the chicken guru now.  I've actually been tagged by people I don't know.  I am by no means an expert on chickens, but I have learned a lot in the past three years.  My best resource continues to be Backyard Chickens

What started out as dream of three hens now has blossomed into a flock with 16 hens and one rooster with 13 different breeds represented.  I love the looks of the various breeds and their eggs (which is mainly why I have so many now), but it has the added benefit of being to tell the chickens apart easily and name them.  Pets first, egg providers second, garden compost third, dinner never.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Robin Feathering Her Nest...Should Choose a Good Location

A few weeks ago, I noticed our dog Coraline “Cory” staring intently at the holly bush in the front yard. A second later, I was startled by a robin flying out of it. Sure enough, there was a nest in the bush, filled with four pretty little blue eggs. The only problem was the nest was situated about 30 inches from the ground, the same height as a Golden Retriever’s mouth.

Although our dogs know to leave our chickens alone, small birds really bring out their natural prey drive. After witnessing our sweet natured Golden Retriever, Chardonnay, flush, catch and instantly kill a baby bird on a hike once, I realized that she sees chickens and birds as different creatures. Cory, our Shar-pei mix, has an even stronger prey drive and focused on the robin’s nest every time she went outside. Cory is a very vertical dog, so although she’s smaller than Chardonnay, jumping up to grab the nest is well within her capabilities. We knew this was going to be trouble.

“Survival of the fittest,” rationalized my son. I cursed the ignorance of the mother robin for choosing such a low spot to raise her brood. Last year, the nest was in a maple tree, 15 feet up. Sorry, the thought of our dogs killing a nest of robins was too much.

The robins starting hatching so we knew we needed to do something. Jay and I found some old rusty fencing material and surrounded the holly bush, using a couple of old stakes to hold it steady. Being so low to the ground, it was easy to monitor the family as the little robbies emerged. The big surprise was that unlike chicken chicks which are fully feathered and adorable, newly hatched robin chicks are naked, their black eyes bulging underneath their closed eyelids. Not exactly cute; they reminded me of inch-long, miniature rubber chickens.

Two Days Old
I did some research on the American Robin, and found that the chicks go from naked to leaving the nest within two weeks. The newly fledged robins can’t fly too high or far yet, but will seek refuge in low branches or in bushes. The parents continue to feed and watch over the fledgling robins for another two weeks until they become fully functional fliers. Robins typically raise two or three broods each spring/summer, building a new nest for each family. They have concentrated, in and out parenting during the summer so they can take the rest of the year off. Still, even with their parents’ watchfulness, only about 25% of all robin chicks live to be adults.

Rusty Robin Fencing
I always heard as a child that one should never touch a baby wild animal because the mother will smell human and abandon her young. Now that I’m a backyard chicken hobbyist of three years, I’ve learned that birds have a very poor sense of smell. They use sight and sound to navigate through life. Young birds found on the ground should be left alone unless they are in imminent danger. The parents are around watching. However, one should never handle eggs found in a nest as the incubation process is complicated and the embryo inside can easily be killed if jostled.

We remained vigilant over the nest without trying to be intrusive and our rusty fence did its job of protecting the robin family from our dogs. We are well aware that snakes are easily tempted by a nest of birds and the fence could easily assist a snake trying to reach the nest. I have seen four-foot black snakes climbing fences or on top of tables, reaching toward nests of chirping Phoebes and Bluebirds. Ironically, I knew that our dogs would discourage any snakes, at least during the day. Fortunately for the robin, the babies were very quiet and attracted little attention. 
One Week Later

The last time I saw the chicks in the nest was a few days ago, looking like fat people in a crowded subway, wishing their neighbor wore deodorant and their stop couldn’t come soon enough.  I waited two days too long to go back and get a picture, because when I did, the nest was empty already.