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Ruffling Feathers

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

     Today for the first time in a very long time I heard Nigella hoot loudly.

     Nigella is our little Scots Dumpy. She is two years old and ample of bosom with sleek blue-black plumage and sinewy snake-skin legs.

     All Summer she informs us how things are going in the garden with our flock of four bantams of which she is the undisputed boss. She hoots louder and that bit more triumphantly than the others whenever she lays an egg.
      I once counted 92 Nigella-hoots in a row at 5 am.

     That was before we tricked the motorised light sensor, which is wired to the pop-hole door on the hen house...into giving them and us, a lie-in.

     Should a predator hove into view Nigella  can sound so effective an alarm that she has us all, dogs, humans, the SAS, racing to the rescue.

     Occasionally, on the longest days of Summer, she comes over all frisky and surprises herself by getting airborne. Then doesn't she show off and preen: strutting about on top of our neighbour's wall/fence/shed - clucking and squawking to show us how very high, how very mighty she truly is.

     But come Autumn the chickens begin their annual moult. It's not a pretty sight. The frantic shedding of so many feathers exposes the tiny vulnerable creatures we share our lives with: in place of blood-red wattle  and combs – drab grey flaps; in place of fabulous pom-poms and plumage worthy of a 1930's Hollywood siren – bald patches of puckered skin,  bedraggled bodies barbed with spiky bits of feather shaft.

     Since October they've scuttled nervously and silently around the garden, maintaining close formation, scurrying for cover if a buzzard or kite wheels overhead.

     But the feathers have finally grown back and today Nigella issued a noisy and sustained proclamation. We have no idea what it meant – certainly not an egg  - they won't lay now until February. Perhaps it was the full moon or a mouse, or maybe she was just rallying the troops:

     'We made it through the storms and floods and gales of another ‘Fall’ girls. Claws crossed we're still here.'

27.11.2012
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