How The Hen House Turns: Forty-Six Years With Birds

Painting by Cary Neeper. Courtesy photo

Formerly of Los Alamos

Recently I indulged in some fond memories of our 40-some years with the Hen House birds.

I found photos taken years ago and started painting – first Lucy and Bobbie geese, then the miniature ducks (Mrs. Ritz and Kiebler), the two turkeys that spanned the years, and all the various chickens, starting with the only child Peeper, who became a wonderful protective rooster.

There was lots of room on the large painting canvas, so I painted the front of the house on Walnut Street and the large golden tree behind it. I “suggested” a daughter feeding wild birds at the front porch, and a few mammals that interacted with the birds, also their protecting dogs, DeeDee and Scooter (in the upper right).

Since I was also painting on a separate canvas (all the dogs in my life), I decided to add our pet skunk of 11 years in the bottom right corner. The bird canvas was getting crowded, as you can see, but I kept squeezing the birds in, until I ran out of good photos to copy in watercolor.

Now the painting hangs in our monthly art show here at The Sequoian retirement home. People here enjoy it, so I decided its photos might be of interest to Los Alamos historians and/or animal lovers who might like hosting domestic birds. I do recommend raising some, especially if you raise them straight from the nest of a dedicated hen.

The Hen House has added a lot of joy to our 46 years in Los Alamos. Of course there was always the sorrow of loss. Birds don’t always live very long. There can also be moments of terror, when foxes or crows or skunks attack the birds The dogs were helpless to protect a stray hen from a hungry raven.

If you are interested in birds, do red “Birdology” by Sy Montgomery (Free Press, NY, 2010.), a National Book Award Finalist for “The Love of An Octopus.” Each chapter in “Birdology” describes a different bird and its peculiarities–crows, parrots, pigeons, hawks, hummingbirds, cassowarys and chickens.

I agree with Sy Montgomery. Our Hen House chickens were “individuals”. Each one had an unique reaction to my approach – a polite “bak bak”, or a hurried approach and a look for food, or an unwelcoming ruffled feather with backing off, or a curious peck at my shoes. Over the years, we learned that some birds share with us humans a capacity to care, to know who they are, and to communicate their needs.

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