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Jessie Raymond: Indoor hen gives no signs of spring

There’s a chicken in our bathroom.
This is not a clever turn of phrase like “a bird in the hand” or “a bun in the oven.” There is actually a live chicken staying in a Rubbermaid tub in our bathroom.
Given the way guests react when they walk into the bathroom — “Whoa, there’s a freaking chicken in here!” — I’m guessing this is not common in other households.
The chicken, whom we’ve affectionately come to refer to as “Chicken,” is recovering from a near-death experience. I found her one wintry afternoon, huddled in a corner of the coop, breathing hard and possibly injured. This was back when the temperatures were rarely getting out of the single digits. By that measure, this could have been any time during the past four months, but I’m referring to Friday, Feb. 28.
I remember the date because we were heading out of town for the weekend and I was concerned that the house sitter might not be emotionally prepared to deal with a chicken in the bathroom. Also, I recall thinking that the first weekend in March is not a reasonable time for the temperatures to be dropping to zero. I’m less surprised that I had to take a hen indoors than I am that the rest of the chickens weren’t banging on the door demanding to be let in as well.
I had no diagnosis for Chicken when I brought her inside, other than “almost frozen.” After a few minutes in the warm air, the blood returned to her extremities and her comb started bleeding profusely. This was a clue. I’m guessing she had been feeling sickly, causing her dear friends and coop mates to react the way birds do when presented with a weaker peer: by trying to peck her to death. (Chickens have a dark side.)
Her illness, combined with the ensuing mob violence and the bitter temperatures, was more than she could take. What else could I do but rescue her?
It’s not like she’s the first barn critter to get a taste of the great indoors; we’ve rehabbed plenty of piglets and baby turkeys and cared for newly hatched chicks. But this is the first time an outside animal has stayed inside for so long. I’m not sure whether to ask her to sign a lease or just keep going month to month.
When I first brought her in, I assumed it would be just until the temperatures stayed above freezing for any length of time, maybe in a day or two. How I laugh about that now.
Anyway, she doesn’t appear to be feeling much better. She still has some respiratory issues, which I’m now treating with antibiotics (chicken soup seemed a bit insensitive). My experience with bringing sick birds inside is that as soon as they start to recover, they let you know by flying to the top of your tallest bookshelf and pooping on it.
Not so with Chicken. She has hunkered down quietly in her Rubbermaid tub, enjoying the comfortable climate and a steady supply of kitchen scraps. Also, in the bathroom none of her flock mates are trying to kill her, which I imagine adds to the appeal.
We did have one bright but cold day when I brought her outside for a few minutes for some fresh air and sunshine. Seeing her, the other birds immediately came at her with sharpened beaks and brass knuckles. Back to the bathroom we went.
I’ve promised her that when she does go back outside for good — any day now, weather permitting — I’ll pen her where the mean girls can’t get her. But every time I mention returning her to the yard, she coughs and puts a wing to her forehead.
It has occurred to me that this is the time of year when people start looking to birds as harbingers of spring. When you hear a red-winged blackbird trill for the first time, for instance, you know the warm weather can’t be far behind. So I guess I’ll know winter is on its way out when our bathroom is once again devoid of poultry.
But if Chicken’s readiness to go back outside is any indicator of spring’s arrival, the long-range forecast isn’t looking good.
This morning I found her toothbrush and makeup bag in our medicine cabinet.

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