We are down 50% in our poultry population as I’ve related before–one loss by disease and one trauma loss from the herd. But thankfully, my favorite bird has been spared, she along with her former chief rival. They’ve been forced to get along since they are the last survivors on the island, the one a mere dumb chicken, the other, a kind of lap-dog avian soul-mate. We get along.
Dionne, the black hen, would not put much meat in a pot. She’s a wiry type, maybe half the other hen’s weight, but ten times smarter–if such a term can be used when referring to yard-birds. She follows me around like the family dog and tolerates close contact. If I sit down on the railroad tie wall along the walk into the garden, she hops up beside me. When no one’s looking, I give her a quick pat, which does nothing for her but is a gesture of kinship and connection on my part.
But I am being used, and I have no illusions about that. We have developed a kind of feeding guild and I am nothing more than the source of an easy snack. But she’s at least smart enough to have made the association between stimulus (me anywhere in sight) and response (my turning logs, cinder blocks or boards to uncover yummy things like crickets, earthworms and especially pill bugs.)
She doesn’t need my help finding things to eat, but I confess, I enjoy watching the efficiency with which she consumes those items. Pill bugs are especially fun to watch, and she makes a characteristic “cooing” cluck that is unique to the taste of pill bugs. I imagine it a kind of “thanks” for the treat, and I marvel at the accuracy with which she manages one-peck-only per target, her accuracy near 100%.
I’ve learned there are no random pecks, and have come to watch carefully for the tiny worms (even large nematodes), slugs or insects that would otherwise be invisible to a human eye. She machine-guns that beak under that lifted board and every peck is a speck of living lunch. We move from log to rock to board at least once a day. She has me well trained.
Meanwhile, I have noticed a new behavior of our indoors critter as well. I am a cat-napper, and prefer several ten-minute naps during the day curled up on the love seat here in the room where the computer is. The dog may be asleep in the next room or lying just a few feet away, but when I get up from my chair and ease into nap position on the love seat, the dog gets up from where he was napping, comes over where I am, and lies down smack against the place where I rest.
I know he is hard wired to do this, me the alpha male and him the submissive subordinate. It is, I suppose, a pack instinct to rest where the leader of the pack is resting; he always faces the opposite direction, giving us an early warning should we be attached by another pack.
I know he must do this. But in his eyes, I like to think I see it: he also wants to do it.