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Smart Orps

By Gwen Roland

Of the limited number of breeds I've known, I have to vote for buff Orpingtons. There was the night my husband shut the pasture gate before Evelyn was inside. I only let them out of their yard into the pasture during the first early days of spring to get that tender grass in the evenings when I come home from work. So, it isn't like they know that area very well or know where our house is in relation to the pasture or their yard. While we were eating supper, something hit our window. Even in that brief glimpse, I recognized Evelyn's panicked face as she plummeted back to earth. She had heard my voice and followed it to the window where she had leaped nearly three feet straight up hoping I would see her. She was so heavy and her wings so small, flying was out of the question. I ran outside and picked her up. She was shaking, but I was the one crying for the trust she had that if she could just follow the sound of my voice and let me see her, I would make it all right.

About a year later, when I went to shut their house one evening a buff Orpington ran out to meet me. I assumed it was Evelyn because she often did that, and no other bird ever had. I picked her up and saw it was my other smaller buff Orpington, Ev's sister Rose Emma. I said "What are you doing running out here to meet me?" but of course she didn't have any way to tell me. A week or so later I saw what appeared to be mud all over Evelyn's back end. It was maggots. A hawk had ripped her and maggots filled a cavity the size of a small coffee cup. Apparently, Rose Emma had been trying to tell me about it the day it happened. A large piece of muscle was gone and it took all summer of vet care but it did heal over for her to live about almost another year. Eventually gravity and the weight of her insides were too much for the thin covering of skin and she had to be put down.

As for the hawk, I assumed she was too heavy for him to fly off with or that Maggie had barked and jumped at him during the attack, which I have seen her do before. They just abort the dive and fly off. But about the same time I found the maggots in Evelyn, I was surprised to also find an injured hawk chasing my flock on foot. I called a raptor rescuer and we discovered his wing torn nearly completely off and very nasty looking. Since the raptor guy said the hawk' injury was about as old as Evelyn's injury, Maggie was given the credit for pulling the hawk off of Ev and saving her for another year of pampered life, but we'll never know the facts. Perhaps the hawk was already injured and chased Ev down on foot. She was mighty fat and slow, and he was so well camouflaged I nearly stepped on him without seeing him. It would be easy for him to sneak up on a hen that had never known danger in her life. While I may not ever know the specifics of the attack, I do believe that Rose Emma was trying to tell me something was wrong with Ev, which takes a lot more intelligence than I normally credit to chickens.

While both of these remarkable birds are gone now, my memories of them will stay with me forever. I know why old folks repeat the same stories over and over. It isn't that they forgot they told you already. They just want to relive the memory. Recalling this for you has brought them back for a while. Someday I will be boring my peers in the nursing home with stories about Ev and Rose Emma. I look forward to hearing the other stories of smart chickens.

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