by Peter Richmond
For the first time in memory, Jill didn’t come home last night. When I went out to close the fence on the coop at dusk, only Coco had returned to the coop. My heart sank. A loose chicken at night is not a safe chicken. Why the hell had our smarter chicken, named for clothing designer Jill Sander because Plymouth Barred Rocks are so cool to look at, decided to spend the night outdoors in the neighborhood?
No way of knowing. Hens’ sense of things is unfathomable to humans, although if you own a hen, you know that her primal wisdom is so far beyond homo sapiens’, there’s no point in comparing.
But I had to make an executive decision: Keep the door to the coop cage open, in hope that Jill would return to Coco (yes, Chanel), but thus endangering them both if a critter were lurking at 3 a.m. looking for a main course? Or lock it, ensuring that Coco lived, even if Jill were to be devoured? ¬†I locked it. I didn’t want to lose Coco, because last month, we almost did.
That had been around dusk, too. Melissa heard Coco screeching, followed by a loud cacophony of crow caws. She made it back to the coop, but something had taken a bite out of her butt, which was now bloodied, and she was missing all the feathers that, you know, covered her butt. The obvious conclusion: Our local crow pack (yeah, it’s called a “murder of crows”) had swooped down and saved her. The increasing literature on the intelligence of crows is hard to ignore. It’s turning out that they are not only the smartest of birds; they might be the smartest animals on earth. They have endured, after all, since the dinosaur days.
And so, happ-ending-wise, at 5:30 this morning, I was awoken by Jill clucking loudly down in the driveway. For whatever reasonm her nighttime adventure was over, and she wanted to tell us, really loudly, that she was home, and if I didn’t mind too much, I could come down and open the coop so she could get an hour of sleep or so after her night doing Ecstacy and listening to Bowie, or whatevs.
So I went down and walked up to her and scolded her. Then I reached down and picked her up (she likes that) — at which point, announcing itself with a loud, angry “caw”, a large crow flew about five feet above us. I saw the whole thing in a flash: The neighborhood crows, knowing Jill should not have been out all night, watched over her the entire night. And then, when I picked her up, one of them swooped down to make sure I wasn’t going to harm her.
Knowing now that my chickens have their own avian Guardian Angels not only brings peace of mind; it makes me wonder if compassion and empathy in the animal brain are as innate as breathing and flying. And if that’s true, how in the hell have we lost ours? Aren’t we supposed to be the smart ones?