I’m at home when I hear her alarm call. I know Matilda, my single remaining hen is safely locked in her outdoor run, having just been out to feed her that morning; but still, she continues to cry.
Outside, I greet her, stroke her feathers, & realise she isn’t calling. She’s still and silent, preening gently, while that shrill alarm cry still sounds. For a long confused moment I just stare, and then feeling ridiculous, I open the roof of her coop to check the dark insides. I jump out of my skin.
Sitting there, shouting away, is a fluffy little brown hen. As soon as it sees the daylight it leaps out and down, running across the cobbles, wings akimbo, me gaping & blinking after it.
‘A Daddy one!’ shouts Orla. ‘Where’s the daddy one gone?’.
Home, I assume.
Two days later I’m heading to work when I spot it again, hiding in the bushes. It’s clearly living here, and hasn’t roamed more than a few metres since its last appearance.
The next day it is still there, and when I throw it some food, it devours it hungrily.
So, the day after that, I cautiously let Tilly out to say hello. I say ‘cautiously’ because she isn’t always the most welcoming of hens; she’s extremely dominant and delivers violent pecks to anything that poses a threat. It’s probably why the poor little thing was so alarmed in the henhouse.
But today, an hour later, they are snuggled up together, dust bathing – a happy, mangled mass of legs and splayed feathers and clouds of soil. That night the brown one follows Matilda to bed, and that is that; they are bonded, and ‘the Daddy one’ has to stay.
& that, of course, is when we realise that Orla was right. This little brown hen is no hen at all, but a young, juvenile cockerel. It grows more obvious by the day; his legs are thicker, tight with muscle so that he walks stiffly and upright. His tail feathers, originally just tipped in black, begin to gleam with iridescent green and purple in the sun. Suddenly it all makes more sense – why someone had let it go, perhaps even dumped it in our hen-house. Why Matilda had been so submissive and affectionate to this sprightly young new comer. She’s in love! 😀
& so, for now, nothing changes. Once he’s fully grown he may have to live a little more wild again, but we’re waiting to see how it goes. In the back of my mind is the thought that Matilda does still lay eggs, which means maybe, just maybe, she might end up mothering a few chicks. The idea has me excited – very, very excited – until a letter arrives from the council, announcing the village grump has complained about Matilda, and we have to move her house… 🙁