10 September 2009

Maverick alone

Bob Johnson, Delilah and Miranda before the last-named was left on her own

Miranda’s life in our midst had a difficult start. She was mistrustful of people, to the point that she would baulk at approaching humans even at feeding time. You had to drop the grain on the ground hoping that the other hens would have their fill before the last morsel had gone. Moreover, she was the victim of bullying among her three peers. María’s days were over when Miranda arrived, but the remaining two - Bob Johnson and Delilah - showed Miranda no kindness at the onset. Pecking was merciless, particularly when the unfortunate newcomer ventured near the feeder. We were worried about her prospects of survival. 
What an irony, therefore, that Miranda should now be our only surviving hen. I cannot remember the exact circumstances of the last two birds’ demise, except for the lack of evidence that the fox had played any part in it. I can vouch for the peaceful death of Bob Johnson and María since I personally gave them humane burial in our north field. More recently, Delilah was seen puffed up and not herself for weeks before her eventual disappearance. Had the fox been involved we would most likely have found a trail of feathers in the place of Delilah’s apprehension, but no feathers were seen. Only the surprising fact that, before our eyes, the hen community had been reduced to the lone presence of Miranda. 
She cuts a dignified figure going about her daily business of scraping for food around the hen court. She doesn’t venture into the fields anymore, as she once did as part of a trio. She doesn’t trespass into our garden either. But conversely she is more confident with humans now, and she doesn’t hesitate to run towards one of us when food is being proffered. And, of course, she stubbornly adheres to her unhenly habit of sleeping in her nest, rather than on the perch, a most annoying practice she introduced when she joined the group. Every night when I shut the henhouse the ritual must include opening the back door and ordering Miranda on the perch and, if she doesn’t obey, which is most times, nudging her in the right direction. 
Does she feel any sense of bereavement? Is loneliness an issue for a hen? I haven’t read enough to know if her species counts among the social animals who need companionship in order to survive. But this one is certainly surviving and, if it’s not too cruel towards the deceased to say so, she is thriving.