Letter from Birdland: Our house is becoming a chicken coop

Letter from Birdland: Our house is becoming a chicken coop

When I left you last week, my husband had just dived into a snowdrift to rescue one of the wild chickens from the blizzard. We have a cockerel and a pullet who don't always go in the coop. We discovered, two days into the blizzard, that they were outside.

Attempting to save them from a frozen death, we were lurching around in the drifts trying to catch them before we met Death ourselves in the 15-below temperatures and the snowstorm.

The cockerel had eluded us, so we turned our attention to the pullet. We successfully chased her off her perch high in the cedar tree, and now she was hunkered down beneath the little quince tree. Michael crept closer and closer, and suddenly dove into the snow. By now, the blizzard was so blinding I couldn't see whether he caught her or not. He waited for a moment before slowly rising, and ... YES! He held a feathery black bundle in his arms.

The cockerel had run under the forsythia bush in the front yard. He was sheltered in the hollow of a huge drift. We brought the pullet inside and set her up a den in Ursula's corner in the kitchen. My dog was curious about her houseguest, but I made a curtain over the den and told Ursula to back off.

She took one more sniff, then, amazingly, walked away. She must have understood the poor pullet's need for quiet and warmth. I brought her some food and water, and 10 minutes or so later, our guest was warm enough to stand up and take some nourishment.

I went to the window to check on the cockerel. He was still huddled in the lee of the snowdrift, just under a wild nest of branches. He would be as safe there as anywhere, and we hatched a plan to wait until dark, when he would be much easier to catch. Chickens don't see well in the dark, which is why they always seek shelter at night — usually in the coop but sometimes in the arms of a great cedar.

We only had a few hours until sundown, and I would keep checking his location in case he decided to venture out.

Meanwhile, the snow kept blowing and drifting higher and higher. Did I mention that the coop was completely drifted over? The flock inside would be warm enough. Snow is a great insulator, and no breezes would get in. We walked over the top of the drift, and it was solid. But I hoped their food and water would hold out until we could get back into the coop.

Our inside chicken decided to check out her new, warm surroundings and took a stroll around the house. She ended up in the corner of the living room next to the piano and nestled right down. I brought her food over, but she mostly just sat and watched.

I kept an eye on the cockerel. Still there. The wind picked up, and the light behind the snow-filled clouds dimmed and dimmed. I looked again. In the bluish twilight, I thought I could still see his shadow. I pulled on boots and mittens and bundled in scarf and hat and coat. Now the wind blew urgently. I stumbled out to the forsythia bush and ... No! He was gone.

Any footprints he might have left had been filled in; perhaps he flew. He was not in his perch in the cedar, either. Night was falling, and the wind was rising. I helplessly went back inside. Michael said, "Don't worry. He made it through the worst of the storm. He'll probably be OK."

We put the pullet in the bathtub, where she spent the evening pecking at the pellets we gave her.

Next morning was equally cold, but the wind had stopped. The drifts were packed hard and squeaked under my feet. I went out to the coop and tunneled down from above so I could drop a few scoops of food into their yard. I cut through to the nesting box and found two hens and a couple of eggs. They were just fine.

As I was turning to go, I saw to my delight, chicken prints across the roof of the coop. They had to be fresh this morning after the wind had stopped blowing. Sure enough, our cockerel was out and about. Later in the afternoon, I spied him on a low branch of the lilac, where he stayed this time, until dark, when I went out and grabbed him.

Now we have two chickens in the spare bathroom, waiting until I can dig out the coop and put them back.

Drift in beauty; tunnel to peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays tries to keep warm in Birdland near White Heath, where she wishes her mother a very happy birthday. You can read more about Birdland and see photos at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Hays can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com.

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