How The Hen House Turns: Birds In A Mixed Flock

Bobbi the Chinese goose, left, being mothered by Lucy the Embden goose. Photo by Cary Neeper
Formerly of Los Alamos
One of our most poignant memories of Los Alamos is the vision of Lucy Goose sitting outside the Hen House yard, watching two chicken chicks play over and around their adoptive mother, Turkey 2.
We called her “Little Bear” because she survived a bear attack on the bomb proof nest boxes Don built.
It was the spring of 2014 when Turkey’s vigil ended. In just a few weeks the chicks had grown up enough to run around exploring the Hen House yard by themselves. That’s when Lucy Goose decided to sit.
She chose the large straw-bedded house that had a back door facing outside the Hen House yard. There she sat on several of her own eggs for four solid weeks, day and night. I tried to leave well enough alone, but finally intruded on her well-being and, once every day, I pulled her off her well-built straw nest and insisted she take food and water and relieve her bowels before I let her go back to the nest. The sad fact that we had no gander to fertilize the eggs did not worry her. She was sure they would hatch anyway.
I checked the goose books. When the full setting-term had passed, I went to the feed store and bought a baby goose. It wasn’t an Embden goose like Lucy. It was a Chinese goose of some sort, but it was all the feed store had.
That night, under the cover of darkness, I slipped Lucy’s infertile eggs out from under her and set the chick under her soft rear fluff. Lucy didn’t stir, and neither did the chick. I waited a minute, then slowly closed the back of the nest box. No sound. Then a little soft ruffling.
The next morning, at first light, I opened the nest box door and took the picture you see here baby goose standing next to Lucy’s smiling beak. As I expected, Lucy proved to be a proud and careful mother, and baby chick Bobbi grew into a handsome Chinese goose.
This story confirms the findings of Anne Innis Dagg in her book summarizing superior mothering by elder birds. She notes in “The Social Behavior of Older Animals” that our Los Alamos friends, elder scrub jays and pinyon jays, have “a better reproductive record than younger ones. Their success improves with experience”.
Though Lucy Goose had no previous mothering experience, she was apparently an apt student of her friend Turkey 2, who, with caution and patience, successfully raised her adopted chicken chicks.
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