Chickens Under the Deck

“The chickens are under the deck!” I hollered up the stairs this morning after peeking out the basement door to do a quick head count. I conduct periodic head counts on days when they are free ranging without supervision. While they have no desire to go far from their coop, in the six months we’ve kept them I’ve come home to a large hawk staring at me through our back door while perching on the deck railing and I’ve walked outside to see a red fox within fifteen feet of a chicken dinner. So, my counting routine makes me feel better. Down the stairs, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… all accounted for. Back upstairs to whatever it was I was doing. Repeat at intervals.

The back deck is no more than 25 feet from the girls’ coop. A large patch of green grass is holding it’s own against the winter under the deck’s protection and I knew the girls had been eyeing it for weeks – a little taste of summer amid the freezing January temperatures. While covering this distance would take them only seconds, I never imagined they would summon the courage to walk over the peninsula of icy snow that blocked their path. They had approached the formidable barrier multiple times over the last month, considered it, and walked away in defeat.

Which one of the girls had gotten up the courage to cross the land bridge? Had she called back for the others to follow? The theme song from Ken Burns’ Lewis and Clark rang through my ears as I walked triumphantly upstairs. Almond-sized brains or not, my girls were intrepid explorers.

My sense of pride lasted until my next head count, when I walked outside to find them lined up under the deck, backs to the uneaten grass, happily pecking at a small patch of exposed insulation at the base of the siding along the back of the house. The swelling soundtrack in my head faded as the girls looked up and cocked their heads, tiny bits of blue styrofoam dropping from the ends of their beaks to the ground.