How the Hen House Turns: Celebrating the Life of Little Bear

Little Bear with the two chicken chicks she raised, Pan and Dora. Courtesy/Cary Neeper
 
How the Hen House Turns: Celebrating the Life of Little Bear
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

Little Bear (aka Second Turkey) died Saturday after one brief day of puzzlement and less than two hours of quiet distress. That morning, as usual, she hopped down from her roost in the Hen House. When I opened the pen for the birds’ daily outing, she hesitated, but hung out with Lucy as usual until snack time at 4 p.m.

When everyone else was back in the pen pecking at honeydew melon rinds and expensive dried worms, I realized Little Bear had not come in for her favorite melon seeds. I found her standing beneath the Golden Delicious apple tree, looking distracted.

When she followed me back to the pen, I noticed that her beak was gaping open. She refused water and melon seeds. Two hours later, at dusk, I found her lying in the door of the Hen House, surrounded by her seven companions.

Together we mourned her passing. Bobbi goose gave a noisy tribute to the 11-year-old turkey. Aging dog DeeDee satisfied herself that she was at peace in her patterned shroud of gorgeous brown and white feathers. Ms. Khaki duck and daughter Puddles decided they would now prefer to sleep in their nest box.

It was an end of an era, and the beginning of an early warm spring. I spent the evening remembering Little Bear’s eventful life. At age five days, in June 2002, she survived two bear attacks under the loving care of two White Silkie hen mothers.

In the first attack the mother hen and one fellow turkey chick fed the bear, hungry that second summer after the fire in 2000. Two nights later, the bear rolled the sturdy new nest box, but couldn’t get it open before the dogs chased him off.

As a handsome full-feathered youngster, LB hung out with Lucy.  A year later, 2003, after a good four-week set, Little Bear raised two chicken chicks, Pan and Dora. 

I remember Lucy goose sitting outside the pen, pining for her own, watching Little Bear with her chicks, who loved to sit on top of her when not snuggled underneath her massive wings.

We won’t forget the drama of Little Bear’s trapping a crow and attacking it with her beak to protect those chicks, nor will the huge gang of noisy crows, watching from high in the surrounding Ponderosa. I rescued the crow, tossed it out of the pen and hollered, “Don’t come back.” They never have.

The next spring, 2004, Lucy did such a good job setting, I went to Santa Fe to pick up two English Call ducklings from a lady with a flooded yard walled with adobe. The goose was an excellent mother to the two miniature Mallards, who are now 10 years old, Kiebler and Ms. Ritz.

True to her nature, Lucy was also an excellent grandmother, helping Ms. Ritz watch out for her three Runner ducklings in spring 2005. Unfortunately they were all male, so I was not able to keep them. The recommended ratio is one male to four female ducks.

Little Bear was a good matriarch through all this, tolerating everyone (except me, if I stayed in the pen too long). Eventually, after calling forlornly for her flock every spring, she settled into her late years, happily flocking with geese, ducks and chickens. She quit laying her lovely brown eggs some years ago.

I’m sorry I couldn’t have provided her a proper mate, but gobblers are more than the Hen House can accommodate. I’m glad for the times she came up onto the porch, whenever she noticed we were having sandwiches for lunch. I will never scrape the seeds from a honeydew melon without remembering her distinctive preference for them and for apple cores.

RIP, Little Bear.

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