Extended Family

Extended Family

Photo by Audrey Pavia

Baby Jo has taken to mothering my other hen’s chicks.

My three chicks are 1 month old now, and they are out and about in the yard with the rest of the flock. They stay close to their mom most of the time. The rest of the time, they are with their aunt, Baby Jo.

Or is she their sister? Baby Jo was the product of one of the Jos’, two sister hens who look exactly alike. I suspect Baby Jo’s mom is the one that hatched the three chicks, because Baby Jo takes care of them like they are her own.

I first noticed this behavior the other day, when the chicks were out walking around the backyard with mom. Baby Jo was walking right along with them, calling the chicks to her when she’d find something good to eat. Whenever I spied mom and chicks, Baby Jo was right there with them. Meanwhile, the other hen, sister to mom, couldn’t care less. And, of course, the roosters were oblivious.

Just having become an aunt myself for the first time in 20 years, I completely understand Baby Jo’s behavior. Even though she might technically be a big sister, her behavior is that of an aunt. She wants to be close to the chicks whenever she can, and she wants to care-take and nurture them. She knows they aren’t hers, but yet she lends herself to them as a second mom. She is always in proximity, always looking out for them. She is part of their family.

Yet despite all this closeness, Baby Jo seems to know she is just an aunt and not mom. When the sun goes down and all the chickens make their way to the coop, she hangs back. When momma hen finds her place on the roosting pole and spreads her wings so her babies can huddle underneath, Baby Jo goes off by herself. The last few nights, she has taken to roosting in the extra coop I keep nearby for emergencies. She seems to know not to encroach on Mom’s turf at bedtime, when babies and Mom solidify their bond by snuggling together for safety, companionship and warmth.

I keep thinking about Baby Jo’s recent choice to sleep outside the main coop. She has been sleeping in the main coop for her entire life, but the close relationship that developed between her and the chicks is coinciding with her finding a place outside the coop to roost at night. It’s suspicious.

The temptation to anthropomorphize is great. Is she putting herself away from the flock because she is sad that she can’t sleep with the babies? So she tries to get as far away from them as she can? Or is she sensing a territorial attitude from mom, and so chooses to put herself out of site so as not to raise mom’s ire?.

I have no idea. All I know is that I felt badly for her tonight, and put her back in the main coop. It’s not only safer there, but it’s where she belongs — with her extended family.

Tags Audrey Pavia, baby chickens, chicks, mother hen

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