Archive for the ‘Bird miscellany’ Category

May 4: International Respect for Chickens Day

Ah, the lowly chicken! They outnumber people on this terrestrial orb. They provide eggs, meat, amusement, and poop. They are culture’s unsung heroes. It’s about time they had their day.

The following is a press release from May 4, 2005, from the United Poultry Concerns website:

United Poultry Concerns is launching International Respect for Chickens Day on May 4th. We’re urging everyone to do an ACTION of compassion for chickens on that day. This can range from writing a letter to the editor to tabling at a local mall to showing the movie Chicken Run to students, family and friends.

“International Respect for Chickens Day is a day to celebrate the dignity, beauty, and life of chickens and to protest against the bleakness of their lives in farming operations,” says UPC president Karen Davis. “Chickens are lively birds who have been torn from the leafy world in which they evolved. We want chickens to be restored to their green world and not be eaten.”

The idea for International Respect for Chickens Day traces to famed Le Show host and star of The Simpsons, Harry Shearer, who proclaimed Sunday, May 14, 2000 – Mother’s Day – National Respect the Chicken Day because hens are justly praised as exemplars of devoted motherhood.

In March 2005, Walt Disney Studios contacted United Poultry Concerns about Disney’s upcoming movie Chicken Little, starring a chicken as a hero, just as in real life chickens are heroic protectors of their families and flocks.

In Letters from an American Farmer, a study of American colonial society published in 1782, St. John de Crevecoeur wrote about chickens, “I never see an egg brought to my table but I feel penetrated with the wonderful change it would have undergone but for my gluttony; it might have been a gentle, useful hen leading her chickens with a care and vigilance which speaks shame to many women. A cock perhaps, arrayed with the most majestic plumes, tender to his mate, bold, courageous, endowed with an astonishing instinct, with thoughts, with memory, and every distinguishing characteristic of the reason of man.”

Bird specialists agree that chickens are highly intelligent individuals with social skills that Professor John Webster calls “pretty close to culture – and an advanced one at that. Chickens are sentient creatures and have feelings of their own,” he says. International Respect for Chickens Day urges people to honor chickens by performing a compassionate action for chickens on May 4th. (

Sunday, 9/26/2010: Busy Day with Chicago Bird Collision Monitors

I admit it, I’m a bird person. Any kind of birds. Chickens, quail, parakeets, turkeys, king vultures, golden pheasants, emus. And migratory birds. So in the fall and the spring, I help migratory birds navigate Chicago’s Loop.

A Unfortunate Banner Day

Sunday, 9/26/2010,  was a big migration day, and my team from Chicago Bird Collision Monitors picked up over 260 live birds and hundreds (I’m guessing 500-600) of dead birds in downtown Chicago.

These birds are our brightly colored, tiny treasures: warblers, thrushes, hummingbirds, sapsuckers, wrens, kinglets, brown creepers, and others. So why do they hit buildings? What’s going on?

Chicago and Migration Paths

Chicago is on a major migratory flight path between North and South America. You can see from this map (from that Chicago is a major intersection of migratory flyways from Canada and the northern United States.

The Draw of the Big City

Birds who are passing through in the early morning hours are drawn to the lights of the city and come down. They are attracted to lighted lobby and office windows and landscaping inside buildings. They get lost in steel and glass canyons, spiraling downward from exhaustion, not realizing that up is out.

These birds do not understand glass, so they will fly into it, thinking they can reach the trees or lights inside. Many die on the street every day in the spring and fall. They sustain head injuries from collisions with glass; they are stepped on, run over by cars, and eaten by gulls and crows. Some die of fright.

How CBCM Helps

I volunteer with Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, and once a week (or more) during the fall and spring, I walk the streets from the crack of dawn until 9 or 10, collecting injured, stunned, and dead birds.

The live birds go to Willowbrook Wildlife Center for rehab and release. The dead go to the Field Museum for documentation and research purposes.

CBCM records data from each bird found and works with building owners and management companies for LIGHTS OUT CHICAGO! a campaign to lower or turn off excess building lights during the spring and fall migrations. A few hours a year of no building lights can save lots of dollars and lots of avian lives.

How You Can Help

You can donate, volunteer, or work with your building staff to help birds navigate the Loop. Contact CBCM at 773-988-1867.

If you have an injured or dead bird, call 773-988-1867!

Penny the Quail: The Final Chapter

Penny the quail passed away suddenly, though not unexpectedly, on August 18, 2010.  I was in PA with my family, when Kat of My Paws and Claws petsitting called with the sad news. She had died suddenly between 7:00 and 7:30 AM.

Penny enjoys her dirt and sprouted seeds.


Penny had a rough July. She developed watery diarrhea and stopped eating. The vet found she was anemic, and I hand fed her for over three weeks, syringefuls of food mixed with meds. She was a sick little bird.

When she finally got back to her normal self, we’d go for walks. I’d carry her to a nice grassy spot. We’d sit outside, and she’d dust, eat grass, and do other quail stuff while I kept a close eye on her. We’d find ants on the sidewalk, and she had great fun chasing them, in a very ADD fashion. She’d see one ant and go running after it. Another ant would come from another direction, and she’d head off after that one!

In August we (Penny, the parakeets, and I) took a road trip to Michigan to see an old high school friend and her family. The girls enjoyed Penny.

Penny and the Frost family

Penny was a cheerful little bird, and I miss her early-morning progressive alarm clock noises and her energetic, cheerful, and sometimes goofy personality.

Life Lessons from Penny the Quail

Penny was patient and gracious with children. She was very easy to handle and never really put up much of a fuss about anything, unless it was getting more romaine lettuce. She ate her vegetables without complaining. In fact, the first time I gave her chopped veggies, she started scratching happily in them, and they went all over the floor! (She later cleaned them up!)

Penny and her new friend Kara

Penny was unapologetically quail. She was always herself, even though that meant being goofy and offbeat sometimes. She was always very clear about what she wanted: greens, dirt, ants, a little more time in the grass. She gave back in big ways: 16 eggs to make an omelette. And she was always willing to snuggle. There is much to be learned there.

Penny and her eggs


Because Penny was a Japanese quail and because she greatly enjoyed hanging out under the ferns in the backyard of the folks who sold me her cage, I bought a Japanese fern for her grave at the Oak Park farmers market.  The purchase was also fitting because the guy who sold me the fern keeps quail. A coincidence? I think not. She is buried under the fern in a lovely garden plot. She is greatly missed.

Penny is buried under a Japanese fern.

For you crafty types: chicksessories?

It seems all these chickens have been stirring the creative American spirit to entrepreneurship;  innovative, creative types are working to find a niche in the new chicken craze!

New products such as chicken diapers, coop kits, and chicken treat balls are hitting a burgeoning market. The Wall Street Journal reports on the new chicken products coming out.

What do your backyard friends just “gotta have”? Try marketing it!

Evanston Debates Chicken Ordinance

Evanston, IL, a suburb of Chicago, currently prohibits chickens. However, residents are getting their feathers ruffled over the ordinance. Other Chicago suburbs allow backyard fowl, including Oak Park, where Home to Roost is based. Read the Tribune‘s coverage of the Evanston story.

Hello! My Name Is …: Avian Introductions

You have two hens. You want to get another hen. How many hens will you have total? How many eggs will you get? What will this do to the pecking order? Show your work. You may use a calculator if necessary.

Seriously, introducing a bird* to your flock can be a process. There are several things to consider:

1) Disease: Your birds and/or their environment may have a pathogen that could kill the new bird. For example, a bird may develop immunity to one of the nine strains of coccidia (common protozoans that are nearly ubiquitous with chicken flocks)  and may not have time to develop immunity if introduced suddenly to a flock with a different strain.

2) Social interaction: Birds are flock animals and hierarchy and social structure are based on the pecking order. Who’s on top, who’s on the bottom, and who’s in between is very important. Sudden disruptions to that system may lead to serious injury or death for a bird.

3) Environmental change: Birds, because they are prey species, are by nature suspicious critters, very wary of new surroundings, sights, and sounds. Some birds will starve to death rather than make a diet conversion. Others will take a while to settle in to new surroundings and may appear shell-shocked and uncertain in a new place for a week.

What to do?

When introducing a new bird to my flock, I follow these steps:

1) Vet the bird. Any new avian resident gets a check up at the avian vet. We check for and treat diseases, communicable or not, and assess the general condition of the bird.

2) Quarantine the bird. Check with your avian vet to see what quarantine  period he or she recommends. During the quarantine period, the new bird will probably show signs of any subclinical illness that might be present.  If this happens, repeat Step 1! If not, move on to Step 3.

3) Introduce the bird slowly to the new flock.

A. I hear you… Place the new bird in a place where it can hear the other birds but not see them. This allows the new one to get used to the sounds of the flock, and it allows the flock to get used to another bird in the area.

B. I see you… After a few days, I move the new bird’s cage so all the birds can see each other. The new bird has time to observe interactions, see its new flock, and interact more closely with them.

C. So you’re my new neighbor! Allow the bird out of the cage to interact with the other members of the flock. I usually suggest supervision for this step, and that it be done in an open area, so that if anyone needs to beat a hasty exit, it can be done.

D. Moving in! If all goes well with Step C, try caging them together. Keep a close eye out for picking around the head and eyes. If there is any sign of this, remove the picked bird immediately. This bird may have to be caged separately and may not be integrated successfully into the flock.

*Hint: It is generally easier to introduce two new birds to a flock, rather than just one. Also, it can be difficult to introduce young birds to a flock of older birds, and bantams to a flock of standard-sized birds.

If there is no picking, then congratulations! You have successfully made an avian introduction! Now put down the calculator and give yourself an A for the day!

Victory Egg Garden from Days of Old Herb Farm

Here’s a link to the Victory Egg Garden, a chicken tractor that sits over a raised bed. Your hens work and fertilize the soil in a raised bed, then you move them along to a new site and plant the old site.

So combine your chickens with gardening, and forget about those compost bins!

Update on Penny the Quail, or The Adventures of Penny the Quail in Chicagoland

It's a big world for a little quail.

You’ll all no doubt recall the little quail who found me on May 8 (See my May 9 post). Well, Penny has made a home for herself here, despite her eating habits.  Continue reading to learn more about that!

Medical News

Penny is doing quite well, and her feathers on her back are growing in nicely! She was treated for a liver infection, and I think we’ve got that under control.The vet said that the lump on her back was her spine, which is twisted, probably due to malnourishment as a chick.

Note: I had a bit of an aspiration pneumonia scare while giving her meds from a syringe. I ended up soaking the meds into a tiny bit of feed, letting it dry, then seeing that she ate it all before feeding her more.

Penny contemplates the world from three stories up. The feather loss on her rump is quite clear in this shot, taken right after I got her (or after she found me).


Given her behaviors (scratching furiously and fluffing her feathers and wings repeatedly while sitting down), I figured she wanted to dust. Then one day, while  looking out the window, she spied the dirt in my potted basil plant and took a dive into it!

So I took the hint and headed out to find dirt. I didn’t want potting soil – too many additives – so I headed into Schauer’s Hardware in River Forest and asked for dirt, not potting soil, just dirt. The guy behind the counter said, “Oh, you want topsoil? Well, we have a 40-lb bag in the back.”

“No,” I said, “that’s too much. I have a pet quail, and I want it so she can take a dustbath.”

It took a bit for that to register, but the look was priceless. “Aww, that’s the cutest thing I’ve ever heard! We’re gonna put it on Facebook!”

I guess cute has its moments. They sent me home with a free partially opened bag of topsoil. I made the quail a dirt box. Penny was elated.

You can see that Penny's feathers are growing in nicely.

I’ll have the greens salad, please.

Penny is becoming quite the connoisseur of houseplants. I looked over one day to find her under the peace lily. She had snipped off a whole leaf, and it lay between her feet, a large verdant trophy. She looked up at me as if to say, “Honest, Mom, it just fell off.” I’ve moved the peace lily to higher ground and bought a cage for my little salad connoisseur, but the prayer plant also came under fire. (Good thing the dieffenbachia is out of reach – it’s toxic to birds.)

Penny's quail condo with dirt box veranda

So I got the hint and bought her parsley. She was elated. Then the fatal error occurred -  I gave her Romaine lettuce. It’s now her favorite. If I dare put parsley in her dish, I get a look that’s somewhere between disdain and ennui, but closer to disdain. Romaine earns me the quail version of the happy dance, which is endlessly entertaining. Seriously. I have friends over, and we watch it and crack up laughing. Needless to say, I don’t have cable.

World’s Luckiest Quail Gives Back

Since she now had a cage, a dirt box and topsoil, and greens salad, Penny decided to give back. She was quite antsy for about an hour one afternoon, then suddenly quieted down. I looked over a few minutes later, and there lay a lovely little speckled egg! I’m saving them until I get a dozen. Maybe that will give me a decent omelette.

Quail eggs with chicken egg for size

It’s a chicken… No, it’s a quail!


My new office assistant


On Friday I got a call about a chicken that was found in a forest preserve. I asked the person how big, what it looked like, what size the comb was. “Well, it’s brown with markings, and it doesn’t have a comb.”

Hmmm… I decided that was not a chicken! When he brought the bird over, and it was a lovely little Japanese coturnix quail hen!

About Coturnix

The word coturnix is Latin, and the Spanish word for quail is codorniz, which is derived by regular sound change (sorry, I had to work in linguistics!). Japanese coturnix quail are not indigenous to the United States, so wildlife rescues will not take them.

I used to hatch them when I was growing up. Incubation takes 17 days, and the chicks hatch all at once – you lift the incubator lid, and it looks like black and tan popcorn! The chicks have black and tan “racing stripes” – very appropriate since the babies are very fast and very high energy! They will sometimes trample each other, so they need ample room in a brooder box. Weak or slow chicks should be removed from the box that holds the lively ones until they are “up to speed.”

Coturnix are raised for their eggs and meat, which are considered gourmet. You can read more about coturnix here and see pictures of eggs and babies here and here.

Back to the Quail…

Her back end had the feathers torn off, as if she’d been run over by a mower or caught by a dog. The skin was fine, and the feathers were growing back. As I was carrying her in, tucked against my chest, she started making these little contented quail noises. She was cooing!

I examined her away from the parakeets to prevent spread of disease and noticed that her eyes were rheumy looking and irritated; she had been scratching them. I put antibiotic ophthalmic ointment on them and washed my hands thoroughly. She was not lice infested and was eating and drinking well, so I put her in my bird carrying cage.


The little quail loves to snuggle in my arm as I work on the computer!


She loves to snuggle in the crook of my arms as I work at the computer and make little happy quail noises! We’re going for a vet check-up on Wednesday.


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