The Chicken Mystery

Goldie, Black Girl & Red

Goldie, Black Girl & Red

Life with my part-time backyard residents is moving along.  Going out every morning with a cup of chicken feed and a cup filled with a variety of goodies I happen to pick up for them is now routine.  It touches my heart to have them come rushing out from the blackberry brambles and ivy when they hear me calling them.

Listening to their clucking murmurs and watching them graciously enjoy my offerings fills me with such a simple happiness; I could not imagine my life without these special critters.

My next-door neighbor is almost as enchanted with them as I am.  I hear her talking to them as she goes about her day.  She and I do the “talk by the fence” neighbor thing you see in sitcoms.  We mull over whom they really belong to and why they keep coming to my yard.

Well, it’s obvious why they’re in my yard dawn to dusk — I feed them.  Good, yummy things.  Just as a stray cat keeps coming back when he knows there’s food to be found, so do the chickens.  But, the chickens aren’t necessarily strays.  I know they’re coming from a house on the next street through a small space in the fence. 

The mystery of their real owner is a puzzle for me and my neighbor.  Recently retired, my red-haired neighbor is also a character you’d see on a sitcom.  Super chatty to the point of talking the paint off walls, she means well but can often be, annoying.  She is also what you would expect a recently retired, chatty neighbor to be — nosy.  And a nosy, talkative neighbor was just what I needed to help find the origins of my new feathered friends.

Another plus to Chatty Cherry (as I will call her) is she has a little fu-fu make of dog that she walks around the neighborhood several times a day.  She seems to know everyone and everything that’s going on in the vicinity of her dog-walking outings. 

Most houses in the neighborhood were built in the early to mid 1900s, so it’s a charming mix of older homes on patchwork lots abutting each other in a twisted assortment.  That made figuring out my chickens’ original home exceptionally challenging.

Chatty reports back to me her findings.  A new arrival to the neighbor next to the house where the hens are coming from knows nothing; the neighbors on the other side went off about disliking how the city even allows people to keep chickens at all . . . Yikes . . . note to self:  don’t talk to them, ever!

Now, you might be thinking:  why not go to the house itself?  Well, the house whose yard the chickens are coming from is a rental, not well-kept, and a tad scary.  Chatty Cherry has never been able to confirm who (or what) lives there; no one is ever home, hence her chatting with everyone surrounding the home. 

A few days ago, I was out trying to plow the hayfield known as my yard, struggling with my old, cantankerous mower and fast-growing wet grass when another of my neighbors happened by.  All the neighbors tend to be a bit eclectic, just like the mismatched medley plots of land we live on.  This particular neighbor is a musician, (on warm summer nights, you can hear him singing and thumping away pleasantly on a drum set).  So this very urbanite gentleman, his curly locks flowing and his clothing earthy, comes strutting down the sidewalk toting a recycled bag filled to overflowing with organic veggies.  He stops to say Hey, how’s it going, and to help me re-start the sputtering mower.  We exchange pleasantries and I ask him about the chickens. 

In a mellow, slightly stoned manner, he tells me the folks in the house on the corner had given the chickens to the guy in the rental home when they moved.  I asked him if he knew the rental-house guys, and he shrugged and moved on down the road, singing to a song in his head. 

For the most part I am content with my newly expanded part-time family, whatever their origins.  The chickens give me solace and a break throughout my days.  Sometimes I go outside to watch them peck, scratch and hunt worms, and before I know it an hour has passed.  Extremely busy with 3 to 4 assorted part-time jobs, I don’t have a lot of time to sleuth out their background, however curious I might be.

For now, Cherry is on the case.  It’s good for her; she has an interesting new project to occupy her mind, which gives her day purpose and a reason on her walks to talk someone’s head off.

Living in Chicken Harmony

Red, Goldie, Black Girl and Fluff making themselves at home.

Red, Goldie, Black Girl and Fluff making themselves at home.

The visitors who recently entered my yard through a space in the fence from the neighbor’s yard are quickly entering my heart.

It’s been just a few weeks, but ever since they showed up they keep coming back to cluck, scratch and just hang out in the yard.

Here they come, checking, poking about, roaming free, digging up worms and scratching in the dirt.  Every morning now I look for them, and they seem to be looking for me!  I think they may have a keen sense of sight, or maybe sense of movement — as soon as they notice the smallest activity in the house, there they are, making those clucking chicken noises that make me laugh and my heart smile.  

The dogs don’t seem to be taking to them as quickly as me, but they do seem to be coming around and getting along okay.  Especially my older guy, 12 year old Jake.  The backyard is his kingdom, and he proudly and diligently watches over it.  The first time he saw the chickens messing around in his kingdom he was not at all thrilled.  He hasn’t hurt them, but I see him gazing with this talking balloon overhead:  “Hmm. . . what’s for dinner!”  Thankfully with him, a loud NO is enough to let him know the day has come to open the gates to the kingdom . . . and share the yard with our new feathered friends. 

I believe he even enjoys them a little — he’s long had two parrot siblings in addition to his “sister” Jessie.  I see him observing the hens’ goings-on in his domain as they casually peck around him in the grass.  Sometimes, I sneak a peek out the back windows and see him calmly gazing at them doing their chicken-y things.  He seems entranced, like he’s watching chicken TV!  Mostly though, he pays no attention . . . except I’ve noticed he has a yen for their poo, which of course mama don’t love.

Anyway.  The hens don’t seem to mind Jake’s presence at all . . . perhaps they know he doesn’t pose a threat.  Now 4-year old Jessie, my other dog, is a loose cannon on four legs. 

Luckily, Jessie’s never been big on the backyard unless I’m out there.  She’s a homebody, hanging pretty much by my side and keeping an eye on her kingdom - the indoors.  As it turns out, that’s a good thing for the chickens.  But nature does call, and throughout the day Jessie answers. 

The first time Jessie saw the girls in the backyard it was chaos.   And perhaps because at first sighting she resembled a cat . . .  Jessie actually managed to get a small chunk of feathers from the fluffy Bantam’s butt.  

Just the other night arriving home, I heard barking out back.  This whole chicken blended family thing is so new (oh hush, I know . . . it’s only been a few weeks and here I am, talking blended family.  I can’t help myself!)  I’m definitely revealing a measure of my personal crazy . . . these girls aren’t even mine!  In fact I’ve been trying to figure out exactly who’s they are, and, well, it’s a mystery!

I’ll tell you about the mystery later . . . back to the scene on my arrival home the other night.  So there’s barking out back, immediately sending me into panic.  Rushing back there, I take in the scene:  Jessie’s got a couple of the chickens cornered, giving them the what-for.  A simple reprimand put an end to her little reign of, well, the hens were aflutter and clearly irritated with my mouthy blonde, but terror . . . yeah, not so much. 

In fact that was a couple days ago and I am happy to report that those hens look as if they’ll be visiting awhile . . . they’ve continued to squeeze through that fence every day since Jessie’s offense. 

My neighbor told me she’s occasionally heard bouts of barking in the days since the hens hit the scene . . .not something my house was ever known for.   I’ve made a point to go out with Jessie several times now, giving her a stern NO when her ears have perked and hackles risen at the sight of a hen. 

All in all, things seem to be getting kind of . . . routine!  And I absolutely love it.  In fact I find myself actually wishing these chickens were mine . . . I really am kind of falling in love.  I hope they stick around . . . everyone seems to be finding their little pecking pack order.   Now about the mystery of where these girls really live . . . I’m on the case and will report to ya soon! 



Grabbing a rain-less moment, I ventured to the backyard to scoop dog poop.  As I waded through the wet grass, I hear a noise “B-ah b-ah b-ah.”   I peered into the rambled mess of blackberry brambles in the far back corner . . . .   And there they were . . . four chickens milling and clucking quietly.   Overjoyed, I said, “Well, Hi!” to which they cranked up their chicken necks and made more noises — as if they were saying “Hi!” back. 

I crouched and talked to them softly.  Not frightened at all, they came closer to check me out too.   A red one, a black one, a golden one and a creamy fluffball toddled out of the brambles.  Thrilled, I ran inside to grab my phone to take a photo . . . which of course I send to anyone who might give a darn. 

Apparently as intrigued by me as I was by them, they came all the way out of the bushes and began checking (and pecking) my back forty.  I made my way through the brambles to see if I could see where they came from . . . and discovered a small space between the fences separating my yard and a neighbors’.

The neighboring house is a rental, with high tenant turnover.   Not sure if they belonged to the current tenant, nor caring, I went inside to see about getting them food and water.  I snagged an old dog bowl for water and set it out.  Immediately, the red and black chickens hustled over, plunged their beaks in, then threw their necks back and drank.  I was fascinated! 

Back to the house I went in search of food . . . lettuce?   Sure, chickens eat that!  I ran back out and presented them with shredded lettuce.   Nothing.  Nope, they don’t like the lettuce.  They be-bopped off across the yard. 

Okay, chickens eat seed.  Having two parrots, I have a mix for them chock-full of various seeds.  I filled a small bowl with it and took it to my visitors.   They loved it!   Maybe it was my imagination but I swear their little eyes got as big as pie.  All four pecked hungrily at the seed. 

Captivated, I watched them dine . . . noticing that there is such a thing as a pecking order and that the creamy fluffball seems to be the outcast.   Occasionally the others angrily peck at her and she backs off.   I throw her a small handful of seed away from the three “bullies”, and she ventures over and pecks away in peace.

When the seed is all gone, they explore the yard and eventually disappear back into the blackberry-bush jungle.  I peer through and see them preening their feathers, appearing very content. 

I re-fill the bowl with parrot seed and make a little spot for food and water for them in the far corner of the yard.  Going about my day, I check on them from time to time.  They remained in the bramble til dusk.  Then, one by one, they squeezed back through the fence and were gone.

Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services of SW WA. She and her brood, Jake and Jessie, both yellow Labs, parrots Pedro (Yellow-Nape Amazon) and Lorali (African Grey) and four endearing chickens reside in Vancouver. Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets.