Thursday, November 29, 2012


In my last blog, about my feathered friends, I briefly mentioned our experience with chickens.  I began remembering things about those few years, when I was known as the ChickenLady – we had 27 at one point.  Our kids thought we had totally lost our minds.  We were not “farm” people – we didn’t go out into the back yard and choose our dinner for that evening (YUK!) We went to Publix!  But we did have a lot of fun and I thought you might enjoy a trip down memory lane with meIt all began with my husband came home from our neighbors’ house one afternoon.
                                *    *    *   *   *
"Honey, you've got to see the baby chicks next door," he said, with a big grin.  They're so cute." 
"Mom, Mom don't make me go."
I figured this had to be some kind of a trick.  For twenty-two years, this incredibly patient man had been trying to keep me away from "cute" animals.  You see, I’ve always had an uncontrollable need to adopt anything "cute."  Here he was telling me to go and see them.  Something was fishy, but I went anyway.  
 "Cute" didn't begin to describe those little brown fuzz balls with double black stripes around their eyes and teeny-tiny feet that ran a mile a minute back to Mommy hen.  I guess Mother hen was pretty, as hens go, but their Daddy rooster was abso­lutely gorgeous.  He was a perfect example of the beauty that mother nature lavishes on the males of the bird kingdom. 
Our neighbors told me what fun they were having watching the daily antics of their new brood.  The best part, they said, was that these chickens were practically maintenance free.  They had simply laid an old tool box from a pick-up truck on the ground, put in a little hay, set out a jug of water and a handful of chicken scratch, and the chickens were comfy-cozy.  Searching for and eating bugs in the woods was their all-consuming passion.  They were totally independent and self-sufficient. 
"Seriously, we can you go away for a day or so without making all sorts of chicken-sitting arrangements?" I asked.
"You can go away forever for all they care," was my answer. Three days later we received a chick delivery--two-week old Lucy, Ricky, Fred, & Ethel.  We settled them into the basic, split-level, starter chicken condo that my spouse had hastily thrown together and went to bed dreaming of hens and roosters and chicks and fresh eggs.
The next morning I received a phone call from our neighbor.  He had two very interesting bits of information for me:  (1) the chicks needed to be kept very warm for the first few weeks (usually not a difficult thing to do here in sunny Florida, even in February) and (2) a cold wave was to arrive that night with freezing temperatures and worse for the next week or so.  And so the “maintenance” began.
The Southern Oaks Chicken Condo - Phase I
A 100-watt bulb was installed in the condo; all cracks and openings were caulked; timers were set and thermometers were strategically placed to insure the proper temperature at all times, day and night.  We walked miles that week, back and forth between the house and the coop, checking on our new charges.  The cold spell passed and they survived.  We, however, caught colds from tending our brood. 
Day by day they grew and each developed a very distinct personality.  Fred was the nosy one, into everything, and pushing quieter Ricky around at every opportunity.  Lucy was shy and demure.  Ethel was coop-wise and one of the boys. 
My home improvement specialist made frequent modifications to the condos, upgrading the flooring, fencing the area for their protection, installing storm doors with screens, altering the roof-line for better runoff and fitting it with a ridge vent for ventilation.  He built perches everywhere, indoor and outdoor, for their entertainment.  They seemed to love it.  Each night they slept in a different bedroom of the condo--huddled together like newborn puppies.
The day finally arrived when we set them free to roam.  They took their first steps outside their yard and promptly flew onto the roof of the coop.  Over the next few weeks they explored. At first, they remained within sight of their home; slowly they branched out.  Each evening, though, as darkness approached, they made their way back to the condos.
Every morning, after I had let them out of the coop, all four would half run, half fly to the fence outside our bedroom window where Fred and Ricky would hold a crowing competition.  We would be the judges.  The girls would practice their clucking nearby.  The adolescent squeaky voices learning their chickenese were hysterical and we found ourselves thoroughly enjoying the entertainment.  Laughter is a wonderful way to start the day.
"Boy, he's got everything in here! Ricky, you check for axes!"
They discovered every nook and cranny of my husband's workshop, inside and out.  They roamed our woods and found all sorts of hiding places.  Hours would go by, and I would swear they had been eaten by some wild creature--but they always came home, safe and sound. 
In late April, I began thinking about the coming hurricane season and the need for additional covered protection for our pets.  We designed an addition to the coop which included a large covered area with a high perch, ridge vent, and a larger outside run with screening on the top and sides.  We intended to keep them locked in this shelter when a storm was approaching. 
"Not bad.  Do you think our rent will go up?"
While the construction was underway, they acted like side­walk superintendents; and at night, while we were having dinner, they inspected every inch of the new addition.  The paint had barely dried on the new wing of the condos when I had quite a fright. 
We had developed a bedtime routine.  They would play outside the coop for a while--a few games of leap-chicken in the branches of the live oaks that shade the condos, a snack or two (cracked corn and a few ants or beetles), and then they would put them­selves to bed.  I would go out later in the evening and lock them in for their protection.  Our woods are full of creatures who would like nothing better than a free, fresh, tender chicken dinner.  This particular night, I lifted the lid to see which bedroom they had chosen and who was sleeping with whom (nosy thing that I am).  Empty!  No chickens!  Oh my God!  Just then I heard the clucking.  It seemed to be coming from over my head.  They were still in the trees and no amount of pleading and bribery could coax them down.
"The chickens are where?" my husband asked.
"Up in a tree!" I exclaimed.  "The coop is empty, and I can't get them to come down."
"You're kidding, right?  This is a joke."
"I wish it was," I stammered.
 I wasn't sure exactly what to think.  After I got over my initial shock, and after I had convinced my mate that I wasn't playing a sick joke, I tried to rationalize the situation.  Most likely, they were safe from predators up there.  They looked comfortable, I guess.  They were still near the condos and their water and food.  They hadn't left home; they were merely camping out (or up) for the night.  The next night these ungrateful fowl did the same--and the next.
Maybe it was the altitude; or maybe their new sense of freedom, but Fred and Ricky's crowing improved tremendously.  They took it upon themselves to awaken the entire neighbor­hood every morning at the crack of four o'clock.  All four of them became very vocal with a varied vocabulary.   They seemed happy!  
"Why didn't they do this before I spent $55.00 on that new shelter?" asked my disheartened spouse.
"Don't worry dear.  The new addition won't go to waste.  The feed store just got some adorable baby turkeys in.  I've heard that turkeys aren't very bright so they need a lot of protection and security.  They do get pretty tall, though, so you might have to raise the roof--just a little; and you may have to lower the perches a fraction--I hear turkeys are afraid of heights.  But honey, they're so cute!"

SURVIVAL TIP FOR THE DAY:  Laughter is a wonderful way to start your day.  So is remembering happy, heartwarming memories.  Take a look through an old photo album - guaranteed you'll find something to make you smile.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Wow!  It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.  I seem to be in a writer’s “funk” – lots of stuff rumbling around in my head, but nothing finding its way to my fingers and my keyboard!  

We’ve been having some strange weather here, much like the rest of the country – nothing quite as dramatic though, thank God!  Today it’s gray, and drizzly, with a cold damp wind blowing.  I’ve been staring out at the angry ocean and noticed something that I see every day, but which still truly moves me – my birds!    

I’ve always been a bird lover.  Wherever we lived, I managed to hang a bird feeder somewhere.  They weren’t always successful.  Usually the squirrels reaped the bounty and the birds got the leftovers.  Whatever leftover seeds the birds didn’t eat grew into grass and weeds that I had to pluck and toss.  Ants took most of the hummingbird food and scared those gentle little creatures away.  For a while we even had free-range chickens until the local fox population got wise.  Our cute little hen Lucy (of Lucy and Ricky, Fred and Ethel fame) was snatched in broad daylight right under our noses.  That’s when the “Have a Heart” trap became a permanent fixture on our property.  I once found a bird tangled in our neighbor’s badminton net.  I untangled it, nursed it for weeks and, when I finally thought it had a fighting chance, I took it to a local vet. Supposedly, he was a specialist in wild birds!  He stretched the poor little thing’s wing all the way out and, while it bled on his table, pronounced him too far gone to save!  He died in my hand on the way home.  At least he had a few weeks of “home cooking.”

For the 19 years that we lived in DeLand, I kept a running list of all my “sightings.”  I am certainly not a qualified “bird watcher” – just a genuine bird lover.  We had generations of cardinals born there; the robins always blanketed our woods on their annual migration; we had our own owl that wintered in our large live oak outside the workshop; varieties of woodpeckers were everywhere along with the doves and the whip-poor-wills, the wild turkeys and the peacocks.  And every spring, a family of chipping sparrows made a nest in a hanging plant, outside my kitchen window.  We watched many young hatchlings take their first flight.  As a rule, birds are gentle creatures, with beautiful voices, and such graceful movements.  As I said, I love them!

Oceanfront cafe
Back to what got me to sit down and write today.  When we moved to this 6th floor condo, I thought my bird feeding days were gone.  I’m not one to throw bread to the seagulls and watch them fight each other – all the while trying to dodge their messy output, shall we say?  And I never thought we could possibly attract birds to a feeder on the balcony.  Where would they come from? There are no little birds around here – or so I thought.  It took a while, but slowly they came. Little chipping sparrows – first one, then three, now sometimes 15 at a time.  They fly in every morning, scatter the seeds all over the balcony and into the nearby plants, eat until they’re stuffed and return again for dinner.  We have now added another feeder on the west-side balcony and it has become almost as popular as their ocean-front dining room.  Since we’re open all day, groups come through at all hours for a snack and a little socializing.

Rear Patio Dining
During some of our recent storms, we had moved the feeders back closer to the building.  They have discovered that, if they sit in and around the feeder, they are protected from the wind and/or rain.  Several of them have spent hours and even days hunkered down, staying safe and warm in our bird hostel.  With only sliding glass between us and our feathered friends, we now have a much better view of their antics than we ever have before.  It’s not unusual to have an entire flock of 15 or 20 fly in at one time, line up on the railing, and wait their turn to eat.  They still scatter the seeds all over, but now they eat every bit off the concrete balcony.  I sweep it occasionally, but there’s no weeding required now.  The squirrels aren’t interested in climbing 6 floors to steal the food, so it’s all theirs.  This past spring, we saw the courting rituals and then the young ones being fed at the feeder.   Hopefully this coming spring, we’ll see the next generation teach their young that we are open 24/7/365 – and we even have 2 seating areas and a lovely view while they wait for a table.

I can’t write about my sparrows without mentioning my “patrol” birds – the pelicans.  I had never seen these regal, graceful, elegant birds in such close proximity.  They fly by us like they’re on patrol – watching over us every day.  They play just barely above the waves and often spend long periods just maneuvering in and around the wind currents between the buildings.  Sometimes there are only 2 or 3 in a “patrol,” but we have often seen groups of 20 or more, all in elegant formation!  It’s not unusual for them to fly within 10 feet of us while we’re sitting on the balcony.  They are so awe inspiring and amazing.  Fred calls them my “boys!”

Rockhopper Penguin
Royal Tern
I never dreamed I would find so many birds here.  I knew I’d see seagulls, which, by the way, I have come to appreciate for their own unique beauty and resourcefulness.  But I’ve found others, lots of others, that amuse us and make us laugh.  The tiny little Sanderlings who run so fast on their teeny little legs; the graceful Snowy Egrets, who I like to call “Mr. Yellow Shoes;” the beautiful colors of the Ruddy Turnstones; the Willets with their stick-like legs; the little Piping Plovers who winter here; and my special Royal Tern who reminds me so much of the Rockhopper Penguins that I fell in love with many years ago at SeaWorld!  Both birds must have the same hairstylist! 

These are only a very few of the bountiful collection of birds that we have discovered here at the beach.  I was afraid I was losing my birds when we moved – instead I’ve adopted an entire new family! 

Life is so very good!  God bless you all!

SURVIVAL TIP FOR TODAY – When you’re in a “funk” – writer’s or otherwise – search for that special something that always moves you and touches your heart.  It’s there.  You probably see it every day