I have a stray chicken in my yard.
I live on about an acre of land surrounded by agricultural fields. You could say I live out in the country, though the town is only about fifteen minutes away and the land around me is all cultivated into wheat, potato, corn, and alfalfa fields.
My nearest neighbor is about an eighth of a mile away. Far enough that I have some privacy, but not so far that I’d lack survival companions in the case of an apocalypse.
None of them raise chickens.
One morning in early summer I got up and looked out the window and there was a strange critter in my yard. It’s not unusual to see a strange critter. I opened the blinds last winter once to find this friendly owl staring back at me.
I squinted my eyes and looked again. It looked like a chicken. But there’s no way I could have a chicken in my yard. First of all, even if the neighbors did raise them, the distance between our houses would be too great for any normal chicken to travel. But like I said, nobody has chickens for at least a good square mile.
I pulled out my binoculars so I could study it more carefully. No doubt. It was a chicken. A hen. I grew up with them, so I knew. She was pecking around in my yard happy as you please. I watched her for a while, and then went on with my day. When she was still there the next day, I went outside and tried to talk to her, but she took off the instant she saw me and ducked under the evergreen trees.
I quickly learned there would be no catching this chicken.
There was nothing to do but live and let live. I mean, what else do you do when a chicken arrives in your yard and has no interest in human interaction?
Predators Lurk But She Survives
A month later I was still sighting the chicken, sometimes in the front yard, sometimes in the back. One night I heard coyotes howling (we get them sometimes, too) and worried for her, but they came and went and she was still around.
Skunks slunk around in the evening looking for a treat, and I worried about them, too—they used to get in the chicken house when I was growing up on my parents’ ranch—but still, the chicken survived. I have a row of evergreens flanked by a row of snow pea bushes, so she has a lot of places to hide out.
The longer she stayed the more curious I became. Why would she end up at my place? Why was she staying? And how was she managing to survive on her own? I looked up chickens online, and read that most nowadays are completely domesticated. Read: aren’t meant to live in the wild. Yet this little hen was managing it as if it were easy.
Anyone Missing a Chicken?
It’s now been about three months that I’ve had this chicken in my yard, living away on her own without any help from anyone. I asked around about her. Seems a lot of people buy baby chicks for their kids, thinking they’ll raise them and have homegrown eggs. When the birds grow up, the families get tired of them, and then try to give them away. A friend told me that he sees ads in Craig’s list all the time for them.
Could it be someone just wanted to get rid of their hen and dumped her off at my front yard?
Out of all the possible explanations, it seemed to make the most sense.
The thought made me a little sad. When we think of abandoned animals, we usually think of dogs and cats. It never occurred to me that someone would abandon a chicken, and a healthy, pretty, smart one at that.
What also strikes me as funny is that this chicken knows the boundaries of my property. She never goes beyond what’s mine. Good thing, as we’re in the middle of wheat harvesting season. That means a lot of giant tractors running around groaning and grinding and spitting and churning up the grains.
My smart chicken stays out of their way.
I had gotten used to having her around, and for the most part, had stopped worrying about her, since she seemed so capable of taking care of herself. Now and then when I didn’t see her for a few days, I would dread what I might discover around the trees, but she always popped up again looking happy and healthy.
Then one Sunday morning, about eight o’clock, she woke me up.
The Chicken Sounds the Alarm
She had never said a word before. Not one word. I’d never even heard her cluck. But that morning she was carrying on like a screaming banshee.
Cluck cluck cluck-begawk! Begawk begawk begawk!
I leaped out of bed, imagining the worst. By the desperate sound of her squawks, I thought surely something had her. A dog, maybe, or a coyote or something. I threw on my jeans and sneakers and rushed out the front door.
I found her at the side of the house. To my relief, she was perfectly fine, but obviously agitated. Back and forth she strutted shouting and squawking. I talked to her and asked her what was wrong. She hung around for a moment, wary, still visibly upset, and then scooted into the trees as she always does when I come around. (Was she hurt by humans in the past? I wondered.) As she made her way down the row, her squawks gradually tapered off until she was quiet again.
I stood in her wake, puzzled. What had caused her to carry on so?
I stepped between the rows of trees, looking around. Nothing. Silence. A few more steps. A few more kind words to the chicken, who had now taken to her usual hiding place.
Crash! Thud, thunk. I looked right. Something large had moved. Hoof beats echoed off to the left. I charged through the row of bushes, pushing the branches aside with my hands, and stepped onto the edge of the wheat field, which at that time was full of beautiful, golden, full-grown stalks.
Down the row of trees, to my left. A deer. She froze and whirled around to look back at me. Caught in her black gaze, I froze, too.
We stood, staring at one another. My breath was gone. Rarely had I ever seen a wild deer up that close. She was tall, long, and graceful, a ballet dancer with her slim neck craned to get a better look at me, her large ears pressed forward.
I didn’t want to move for fear of frightening her further. I waited a few more moments, and then started breathing again. When she didn’t leave, I crouched down, to appear less threatening.
To my surprise, she didn’t take off. She stayed, watching me.
Then, she started back toward me.
A Wild Animal Acts Very Strangely
I’ve been around animals all my life. I know that with few exceptions, a wild animal never comes back toward a human after running away. This isn’t one of those areas where the deer are friendly. Deer run from humans here, as quickly as they can. They know a lot of them carry guns.
But this beautiful doe was coming back toward me.
I waited. She came and came until she was probably 20 feet away. There, she stopped and watched me. Her head moved up and down like an owl’s might, as she worked to get a better picture of this human that had disrupted her morning meal. At one point she lifted one foot and then put it back down, like she sort of wanted to come closer, but didn’t dare.
I was held suspended, and didn’t dare move or make a sound. For a good five minutes we communicated that way. Me silent and still. Her watching, shifting her head, lifting her foot, watching again, her fine-boned face like glass.
Eventually, I could no longer hold the squatting pose. My knees were killing me. I had to move. I knew she would run the second I did, so I waited until I was ready for the moment to be over, and then slowly, sat all the way down.
She fled. Down the row the opposite direction. Zap. Gone. But about fifty yards away, she stopped, and turned around again.
She had no reason to stop. The way was clear for her to escape. There was nothing left for her there.
But she stopped. And she turned back around.
So I stood up. Up to my full height.
I watched her.
She started walking back to me.
The Deer Drifts Away Into the Wheat Field
I swear this is a true story. I’m not making it up. That elegant, lithe creature came back toward me until again, she was about 20 feet away, and then stopped. There she stayed, again, watching me, bobbing her head. At one point she looked out across the wheat field. Then back at me.
I waited. I don’t know how much time passed. It seemed like time had stopped. Finally, the world came back to me and I started to worry. Worry that someone would drive by, see her, get ideas. I live in a state where hunting is a very popular sport.
I started talking to her. I used the same voice I had used with the chicken. Soft, high-pitched, soothing, I hoped. I told her it was okay. She could go ahead now. No one was going to hurt her.
I thought when I started talking she would take off again, but she didn’t. She stayed, and seemed to listen to me. I spoke to her for a while. Finally, I told her, “It’s all right. I’m glad you came by. You can go now. No one’s going to hurt you.”
I swear on my life it wasn’t until I told her “you can go now” that she turned and went. This time, she didn’t race away down the row of trees as she had before. She made a ninety-degree turn straight into the wheat field. She didn’t run. She walked, slowly, gracefully, like a dancer on point, one foot and then the next, gliding through the tall wheat like a lion on the African prairie.
I kept talking to her for a while. She would go a few steps and then look back. Pause. Watch me. Listen. Then walk on.
Not once did she break into a run. I waited until she crested the rise and I could no longer see her before I went back in the house.
What are the Odds?
Some people think animal sightings mean something on a spiritual level. I’m not sure, but this experience was so powerful I did some looking around.
What does it mean to be visited by a doe?
The meanings vary depending on the source. One says that if a deer crosses your path, it’s a sign not to be too hard on yourself. The deer is a messenger of serenity, and teaches us to remain open hearted.
Those who have the deer as a “spirit animal” are intuitive and sensitive by nature, says another, and must master the art of being both determined and gentle.
The female deer, says a third, calls to us from the faery realm, tempting us to go deep into the forest of magic, and to explore our own magical and spiritual nature.
All of these ring true for me at this point in my life. Whether the deer’s presence really “means” anything or not I’m sure will be up to my interpretation. What I do know is that the experience will stay with me always.
And all because of a stray chicken.
I mean, what are the odds that a stray chicken would end up in my yard, of all yards, and a few months later, warn me about the presence of a wild deer that seemed interested in communicating with me?
Have you ever had a unique experience with a wild animal? Please share with our readers.