Saturday, May 19, 2007

Odds Are


Each spring a pair of mallard ducks hang out in our vernal pool/pond/swamp. This year they built a nest in the bowl of a ring of ash trees. It is quite a cozy nest, with a mossy floor and enough of a sheltering bower effect from a few fallen fir boughs caught just above. You can see the duck pulled out some of her down to cover the eggs in a layer about 4" thick(it's been pulled back) and licorice fern fronds have been pulled down from above, probably to disguise the down comforter. But sadly the hen is now gone--I don't know if something ate her, or if somehow the ducks decided to move on. The pool is rapidly drying up(the fastest I've seen since we've moved here)--although plenty of cover and water remains(to my un-duck thinking).
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Ten eggs, a delicate pale green-blue, lay like cold stones, gradually turning grey from the inside.
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0 for 10
The other day as I was walking, I met a wild turkey family. They were crossing the two track into the grasses and irises above. The chicks were only a few days old, with mottled brown fluffy down with a yellow belly. The hen had quite a time keeping everyone together, getting them across the road and back out of hawk sight(I'd just seen a hawk cry and fly off here a few minutes ago). The chicks were still a little bumbly on their new legs, but weren't shy about plunging blindly into the deep grass. The hen kept up a constant gluck and coo with each chick, who responded with a peep. I've listened to this communication with my own chickens, and marveled at how much they spoke back and forth, even when the chicks were still in the egg. Obviously listening and knowing mom's voice is an important survival tactic! The hen wanted to rest under the shade of a small fir's low slung boughs, and tried to gather everyone. But typical of young things anywhere, a few stragglers lollygaggled in the road, having fun running willy-nilly in the wide open. So she herded them back into the safe grass and moved further into the small trees.

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The grass quivered as each little chick wove through, walking by faith in mom's voice, not by sight.
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7 for ??? so far
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Today I found a lone turkey chick huddled on the side of the road. It looked weak, and there were definately no turkeys around. It had gotten sick and was left behind. It squatted on the dead grass that matched its feathers. I took it home, made a bed for it in a dog crate with grass, and gave it little containers of water and chicken food with a fresh worm, and tried to clean its gunked up bottom(a common killer of chicks). I knew it would probably, most likely, inevitably die. But I had a sliver of hope--I imagined it getting bigger and becoming part of my little chicken flock roaming the yard for bugs, or maybe one day following a flock of wild turkeys that pass through(it would have been always free to go), or even being content to stay and get big and fat--and tasty(we did smoke a wild turkey for Thanksgiving one year). So many different thoughts about this little chick: pet, wild thing, dinner. The chick seemed to like sitting in my hand, maybe it felt warm.
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Such a delicate small thing to try to keep up.

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0 for 1

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There are, by my guesstimate, about 50 resident turkeys here in an apparent steady number year to year. Say 25 hens hatch 10 eggs twice(if the first batch goes badly), that's 500 chicks. Maybe 5 or 10 or 25 survive into adulthood each year. That's a lot of "bad luck", and that's just the way it is.

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I like to read memoirs of pioneers, homesteaders and native americans. Survival odds were often much the same for them. Some dealt with it by not naming the child and not becoming "attached" until the child made it to around 4 or 5. Others cherished the child fully, knowing full well the investment would probably end in grief, and blessing its existence with love and thankfulness. I know I'm a "namer".

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I "know" turkeys do not name their chicks, although listening to them communicate and obviously endeavor to keep track of the entire brood makes me wonder. Birds certainly have some sense of individual identity of themselves and one another--they defend territory, choose and know their mate among all others. Yet it is seemingly hardhearted to leave a chick behind, or let it go if it can't keep up. But that's just the way it is. Life goes on and on, it flowers every year. The thing is to keep going, to keep trying.
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I put the dead chick on a stump. It will keep going on, as will many other chicks, in the gut of Beetle, the craw of Raven.

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