Essay : One rooster finds a happy home
A mournful crowing for a couple of days, in other yards. Then he is in ours.
We both have reason to gulp when a new critter shows up in the yard. Almost 13 years now, there's been intrusion. Gophers, deer, a raccoon with five young in the attic, caterpillars like a living fur coat on our trees made us so crazed we smashed them with mallets, skunks digging up plants, mice eating stored hammocks, squirrels chewing the supports of our deck. Once a squirrel threw a half-chewed artificial lemon at me, fake because birds peck real ones left outside. Then there was the woodpecker, which tore holes in our house for two years. We bought an expensive fake hawk recording, then a balloon with hawk face and flashy ribbons.
When I shoo the rooster, I look at him. Rich, glossy feathers. Bright black eyes in his narrow red face. He's so many colors, black, red, brown, a bit of green. The feathers on his neck are so rich and closely layered, they are like couture chainmail. He has sturdy yellow legs and long pale feet with talons. A bit self-important, but also lost.
He sounds so miserable I give him canned corn which he gobbles. My husband is scornful. I explain: keep him here, and we'll get someone to take him away.
So I call everyone from the police to those responsible for animals. I get a lot of advice. Nobody does roosters. Most people hate them. Real farmers eat them. Most are killed when tiny. This one was probably dumped here. Just throw a bag over his head to catch him. Better yet a beach towel. But one soul mentions that they know a family who has a lot of roosters. My husband's kind side surfaces, and he goes in search of such unusual people. Good news — they will take the bird. Bad news — we still have to catch him.
Robert chases the rooster with a towel, bending on his bad knees, venturing into neighboring gardens. The bird scuttles and sometimes jumps, with the help of his short, wide wings. The man is worn out, without having ever got within reach, but the bird strolls up within two feet of him.
Robert then leaves a mournful message for someone he thinks might help (he has a lovely voice). Of course we get a call back.
The next morning the rooster is earlier and louder. At 3:45 am, I am out in the yard with the shovel, rake and hosepipe, determined to shut him up. Little birds are singing with light, sweet voices, (which would lull us back to sleep). The rooster yodels back scratchily. I turn the jet towards the crowing, in one of our fir trees, right next to the house. He leaps from the tree and runs off. I pursue him, hose in hand. The rooster and I are both getting a workout, but it is skirmish, not war.
I feel bad, so I offer bread and lettuce. The first he wolfs, the second mostly ignores. He potters about, silent, polite, even following me. Our son says roosters know only two things, leader and flock. I must assert my dominance or, because I feed him, I will be flock. I say, never fear.
My husband was a Marine on the front lines of the Korean War. He hunts in the closet for his old air rifle. He has become a soldier again. He wants to kill this intruder bird.
But then we receive a call, and shortly afterwards, the God-sent arrives. She points out you can only trap a rooster when it is asleep. She has a basket for small animals. The rooster is nodding in the same tree. She sets up her short ladder, spots him, and shines a tiny light from her cell phone on his legs, then grabs him, fast. It is all over in a second or two. He is upside down, flapping, and then strangely quiet. She deftly puts him in the cage, head forward so he can see out. Her forearm is scratched, because she only got one leg at first and he went for her with his free talons. But she brushes off the injury.
She cares about roosters, says they are chivalrous and self-denying to hens, and it is we humans who have made them useless and annoying.
The bird is locked in the shed in the basket for its own safety. Next morning, we set off for rooster heaven, our captive devouring bread. Once we get the cage unlocked, the rooster bolts out, heading off without any pause to a group of his own having fun under a tree.
Then a little boy and his grandfather approach, and I explain what we are doing on their property, how my husband came the other day. The grandfather beams. The little boy gives me a dollar.
"What 's this for? " I ask. "The new chicken," he says. I give it back to him. "You keep your money. You've given this rooster a proper life. It's no fun to be away from your kind and at risk from raccoons and the oddities of people."
As we drive away, both relieved, I see our Rhode Island Red, tail up and cocked like I never saw it before, feathers iridescently alert, seeming to address the crowd of shorter, bantam roosters, all richly attired themselves in autumn colors. No doubt there will be a rooster congress all day.
I like to think if the bird was dumped near our house, the God of Roosters was watching, for now this healthy young creature can do just what he is meant to do, protect hens from hawks and find treats for them like worms, make his place in a chicken hierarchy, run free and roost with his own kind.
For us, the peace of our bedroom is suddenly a treasure.