Apparently our chicks are Elton John fans. Right on cue this past Saturday night, our ever-cockier Cuckoo Marans males began practicing the time-honored male traditions of posturing and chest-bumping, sometimes adding in an all-out, albeit brief, attack. Amazing how this behavior trancends species boundaries; I have seen it in dogs, horses, cats, heck, even fish – and most definitely humans. Anyway at the ripe old age of one week, our boys have started to go at it. It is often with each other, but they’ll try it out on any chick that’s nearby. The other babies tend to shriek and run for cover when there is a sudden onslaught of feathers and claws. If it is two of the “males” (as I am assuming them to be), they will actually go at it for several seconds with their chests popped out, heads held high, circling each other, until one leaps on the other’s head. Then it is generally over. No matter who the opponent (meek female or surly male), the victor is always quite pleased with himself and stands in the cleared-out middle of the brooder, stretched out to be as tall as possible with his chest inflated, strutting, and looking to see if there are any more challengers. There never are.
Anyway, I have been trying desperately to get a photo of this for you to see for three days now, but no such luck. Here is the best one I have – it is right after a confrontaion. The victor is the cocky-looking one, and the loser is running away. Not a great shot, but hey – it’s all we’ve got for now.
Now, just to be clear, I still have no clue about genders. This behavior surely indicates some are boys, but that’s all I know. Since the instigator will go after anyone in the brooder, it doesn’t mean much. Oh well. Some of them are looking quite silvery to me, but I still can’t tell if that means anything. Some have WAY more wing and tail development than others. As you can see in the above picture, the victor of this epic battle has very tiny wings and also (this you can’t see), no tail feathers yet. Less early development is supposed to mean female. Also, still some have combs and some do not. But none of these elements all line up with two groups – if I had one group of lighter, larger, more developed, comb-sporting fighters, and one group of darker, less-developed, combless lovers (that’s the opposite of fighters, right?), then we’d be all set. No such luck.
Also on Saturday morning, I had a bit of a rude awakening. I was cooking us a nice Valentine’s Day breakfast of heart-shaped pancakes (awww so cute!) when I noticed that the pan was getting a little too hot and it was smoking a bit. That made me pause for a minute and then it hit me – OH NO!! NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!! BRIAN OPEN THE WINDOWS NOOOWWWWW!!!! I had a sudden flashback to my sophomore year of college. My roommates and I had gotten a pet cockatiel from the local pet store. We loved that bird. He was very cool. He could whistle and say, “hello” and he was housetrained so we could let him out of his cage and he would walk across the room, climb up your pantleg and sit on your lap or shoulder while you were watching TV or studying. He loved to be scratched and held. He was awesome. And then one day we fried some chicken in the kitchen and he was dead. Just like that. Fell right off his perch like a rock.
Turns out that over-heated teflon (the coating on non-stick pans) emits a chemical into the air that is deadly to birds. Instantly deadly. It’s fine for everyone else but make birds drop like flies. I was convinced I had killed all my new babies while cooking breakfast. I ran around shrieking like a madwoman and I stopped cooking mid-pancake and we opened all the doors and windows and turned on the fans. Then I made Brian go in and look. Thankfully, they were all still alive, but for the next few hours, I was convinced the would start expiring. At one point, I decided to open their door and their window and turn on the ceiling fan to create some airmovement and a cross-draft. Bad idea. I had temporarily forgotten how much they hate things that “fly” overhead. Everything is a “hawk” to a chicken. This is one of their survival instincts. Anyway, that ceiling fan was the biggest, scariest, closest hawk they’d ever seen and I almost killed them all with heartattacks in my attempts to save them from the teflon air. In fright, they all tend to pile up together and I’ve read they can actually smother each other to death in the process. Needless to say, the fan was turned back off as quickly as it was turned on and eventually things went back to normal and we had no losses. Lesson learned – no more cooking with non-stick until the babies are out of the house. Also – NO ceiling fans!
Yesterday and today I grabbed a couple of smaller earthworms out of our vermicomposter in the kitchen and gave them to the babies. I honestly thought they’d rush over and gobble them up. This was far from the case. At first, they were scared of these new, wriggly things. Then our bravest stepped up to peck at them and drop them again. They really couldn’t figure out what to do with them. Eventually, one would grab it and RUN for dear life. The one with the worm runs as fast as he/she canin cirlces around the brooder, stopping and turning or dodging or swerving whenever another chick is encountered. All this is accompanied by loud, urgent distress peeping. It may be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I just can picture what going through the worm-carrier’s mind – “Hooray! I got it! I got it! Run! RUN!! HELP!! They’re all coming for me! HELP! HEEELLLPPP!! I got it! Hooray? HELP!” The other chicks generally try their best to grab the worm from the worm-carrier’s mouth. This continues a while and the worm changes hands (mouths) several times and is eventually torn into several pieces. Some of the pieces are eaten, and some are forgotten. The dropped, forgotten ones are eventually rediscovered by someone. At this point, it would be prudent to quickly and discreetly devour this treasure. But no. Without fail, if a chick finds a forgotten piece, it picks it up and starts to run and cry for help. No one else even noticed that it had something until the chick started making a spectacle of him/herself. This is pure entertainment for me. It never gets old.
Don’t hate me. I tried and tried to get a worm picture but they move SO FAST once they get a hold of one that it seems impossible to capture on film. I don’t think I’ll be a chicken photographer when I grow up.
Always Warm Up Before You Excercise
While I have so far failed to bring you fighting and/or worm pictures, I have finally made a breakthrough and gotten a stretching picture! This one took me nearly a week, but I finally got it. The babies do this ALL DAY LONG, but it is really quick and NEVER do it when I’ve got the camera. They stretch out one wing and one leg all the way. Here is another ALMOST picture of an Ameraucana’s stretching:
Another Ameraucana did it while laying down and grooming. See really gave us a nice view of her long wing feathers and she has her tail fanned out, too.
All this stretching, I assume, is in preparation for flying. They are getting better at it by the day. Even without a running start, some can now get close to three inches of air. It’s only a matter of time before they can make it out of the brooder. The time is coming to put them out in the coop! Below is my best shot of “flight” so far. You can see the Buff Orpington chick in the back is just landing.
As far as taming goes, I am still working on it and progress is slow. I was hoping they would fall in love with me when I brought them worms, but no such luck. I guess worms are still too foreign. They are getting better and better about my hand. If I go slowly enough, they don’t run from it in terror and some of them even come over to it without hesitation, looking for food. The picture below is of the Cuckoo Marans chick who is first over to my hand almost 100% of the time.
And before I head of to bed, here are a few more random pictures for your enjoyment.