We’ve raised chickens for over ten years now, and we’ve had many broody hens, but they would start setting on a clutch of eggs only to abandon it halfway through.
Stella is the first to hatch out and care for a small brood of chicks, so it’s the first time I’ve had the treat of watching a mama hen’s instincts at work. So far she’s doing a great job and her chicks are doing well.
We’re still keeping them separated from the rest of the flock for the protection of the youngsters, so periodically I check on them and provide for their needs. I love watching the little chicks zip in and out from under mama, and listening to her reassuring clucks. It has caused me to contemplate the concept of “wings.”
Newly hatched chicks are extremely susceptible to cold. A broody hen is very warm underneath, between 105 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit, so newly hatched chicks find the warmth they need beneath her wings. Were it to rain before their feathers had grown in, they would also be kept dry.
When I first discovered that some chicks had hatched, I went into the coop to check for any that might have fallen out of the raised nest box. Sure enough, I found a little white chick laying on the floor. I picked it up and it was cold and lifeless, yet I felt its heart beating. I held it in one of my hands while I went to get supplies for the new family. By the time I got back, it was starting to revive a little. After my husband helped me prepare a place and move them, I put the weak little chick up under its mother. When I returned a little later to check on them, it had revived and was getting around as well as the others.
As soon as a hen gets broody, she becomes very defensive. When you get near her, she’ll fluff her feathers and growl. If you reach for her eggs, she’ll peck at you. That behavior continues once her chicks are hatched. Here is a video clip of that behavior:
Our hen, Stella, seemed to soften a little bit at that point, but she was still very protective of her chicks. If they had ventured away from her, she brought them back with a certain call, and they’d scurry back underneath her wings.
Our Heavenly Father
Many times in scripture, wings are used to describe God’s loving care of His people:
“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 36:7 New International Version)
“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” (Psalm 57:1)
“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Psalm 91:4)
How reassuring it is to know that He watches over us and invites us to take shelter beneath His wings. Watching Stella with her babies has given me new appreciation for that analogy.
The term “wings” reminds me of myself, too, in my role as a mother. Even before my children were conceived, I was praying and preparing for them.
As soon as they entered the world, my instincts kicked in. I remember well how protective I felt, and if I could have had a police escort, or perhaps an armored vehicle, when taking our babies home for the first time, I would have.
When I took them out in public, I worried that someone might try to kidnap them, so I kept them very close. If I had to look away, I kept a hand on them.
My children were (and still are) my treasures. Even now, with them full-grown, I always feel ready to protect them. I have to restrain myself sometimes and let them handle things theirselves, but inside, I still feel like Stella in these pictures. You can see that she’s watching me carefully.
Our children are in the “fledgling” stage now. They’re trying their own wings and even as they fly further and further from the nest, they are always welcome back.
One spring I heard a ruckus out front so I went to investigate. At the edge of our yard by the woods there were some Blue Jays in the trees. I’m at a loss at how to describe their calls, but they’re very shrill, much like an alarm.
On the lawn I discovered a young Jay sitting in the grass, and the closer I got to it, the more frantic and loud the parents became. It was a fledgling that had tried its wings and had landed in the grass. From their perches, it’s parents were watching over it and encouraging it to try again. They were prepared to defend it from a cat, or me, if necessary.
That memory, which had been stored in the back of my mind, came to the forefront these recent years as first our son, and then our daughter, started trying their wings. My husband and I watch over them and encourage them from a distance. Sometimes their landings are rough and they get discouraged, so we try to boost their spirits and give them the courage to try again. With each attempt their wings become a little stronger. I’m still waiting to see where they will eventually carry them, and hope that it’s not too far away.
Even as I write this, the front door is open, and from my chair where I’m writing I can see the bird feeders. I’m watching hummingbirds, blue jays, cardinals and others, flying to and fro. We have a large flood light mounted to the peak of our roof, and a mama Phoebe built a nest up there and is raising some chicks. When I’m in the front yard I can hear them up there clamoring for food, and I see mama flying to and from the nest, doing her best to fill those hungry mouths.
Spring is when birds build their nests, raise their chicks and teach them how to fly. It’s also the season of graduations and marriages – young adults take wing and their parents join the ranks of empty nesters.