Photo By: Linda Marie
By Jeri Kratina
Being active in wild bird rescue in New Jersey, a typical phone call I receive involves a person finding an injured bird and not knowing what to do for it or a request to help transport the injured ones to a licensed avian rehabilitation center. Such was the call I received one Saturday afternoon in December 2000 requesting help in transporting some injured birds housed at a local animal shelter to rehab. This call, though, would be anything but typical. I was about to get an education into the world of chickens and gain a new friend for life. One very sad chicken was about to enter my version of chicken heaven.
Arriving at the shelter I was taken into their garage "holding area," and my eyes were immediately drawn to a small cage in the corner. In it was an adult red hen with the saddest looking eyes I'd ever seen. She was housed next to a cage holding two injured pigeons. I asked about the hen and was told she was picked up by animal control in a very large, inner city business/retail area near a county courthouse.
While transporting the "wild ones" I couldn't get the sad-eyed hen out of my mind. On my way home I returned to the shelter and brought home one hen and two pigeons. I was amazed at the thinness of the hen - she was literally all lice-infested feathers and bone. Given fresh food and water, she wasn't interested. Her very ill health became obvious the next morning when I found her lying on her side in the corner of her pen emitting a deep cough.
Monday morning was the first of many veterinary visits for us. She was found to have two intestinal parasites. After one oral worming, two injectable wormings, and a course of antibiotics, she began to improve.
My rule of rehabbing birds is never to name my patients because it makes finding them a new home harder for me. The red hen was called "red hen." I quickly violated my own rule one morning when I woke to find her sleeping in her straw bed surrounded by most of her feathers that had fallen out in the night. Stress molt is a scary thing if you've never seen it before. I thereafter called her "Feathers."
Four years later, Feathers lives with me and her good friend Grace, a fancy pigeon who survived a collision with a car and lost the sight in one eye and has neurological damage. Feathers' first buddy was Peter, a 9-year-old Pekin duck with a fracture in his lower spine as a result of being stepped on in a county park. After nine months, Peter had to be euthanized because of problems remaining from his injury. After Peter was gone, Feathers stopped eating. Again she went into a stress molt. She became herself again only when Grace came home.
Feathers is now living the life I only wish for all chickens. Her pen encompasses most of my backyard which I recently covered with heavy top-netting to keep her safe from our neighboring red tail hawk. She sunbathes in the grass and has two large dustbath holes she's dug for herself. I start every morning chopping up fresh spinach, Romaine lettuce and red grapes as part of her poultry diet. Every spring, I plant an entire lettuce garden just for her, and she's allowed to munch on the plants before they're picked regardless of how small they are. Because of high temperatures in deep summer, her pen now has a "cool chicken" cabana made of special mesh that keeps the air inside 10 degrees cooler than outside.
I'm very fortunate to have Feathers as a friend. She has a strong personality, she is extremely smart, very sensitive, and she really enjoys her life. When I come home from work daily, she comes racing across the yard to me. We then have a great time walking my entire property together searching for hidden little bugs. Feathers is one of the most loved, most spoiled creatures on this earth. According to The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow, the maximum lifespan of a chicken is 30-35 years. If that is true, we'll take it!
(UPC Editor's Note: The maximum lifespan of a chicken appears on page 43 of this useful book published by Storey Publishing. Call 1-800-827-8673)