Every fall, even people who aren’t birders make the annual pilgrimage to the top of Putney Mountain, where they watch the charismatic avifauna migrate south along the West and Connecticut River flyways. Up there, a group of regulars keep count of the red tails, kestrels, sharpies, and bald eagles that wing south.
They also count the blue jays. While many jays winter in Vermont, many more head for the beach – as many as two hundred a day – at just about the same time of year that the leaf peepers come north for the foliage.
Birds of lesser fame also flock up, flying back and forth in dizzying practice formations, all winging one way, then another, the low slung sun glancing off their wings.
And those backyard birds – those colorful finches and elusive warblers and iridescent bluebirds – hop from bush to bush like
undercover agents, as if ashamed of their impulse to high tail it out of here before the cold clamps down. Or maybe they just don’t want to compete with the winter-hardy cardinals, whose males flame against the snow in winter, while the pert females wear buff feathers trimmed in scarlet, like a suit by Coco Chanel.
These are all well-known and well-documented migratory parades, the bittersweet harbingers of November, when the earth goes bare and the sun dark, and those of us without feathers hunker down until the snow arrives to cheer us up. But there’s a lesser-known avian migration that occurs each fall at my house.
By the light of the recent and aptly named Blood Moon, we went out with headlamps, and moved the pullets from their field house into the chicken coop, where they joined the flock of established layers and a remarkably handsome rooster.
Chickens do the few things they know how to do quite well; the things they don’t know how to do, they don’t do at all, like get along with one another. They’re birds of a feather, and if new birds are introduced in daylight, the established birds will peck them – sometimes to death. But if the new birds enter the coop at night, the established birds don’t recognize them as strangers in the morning.
As we walked the pullets from the field up to the coop, two and at time, I cooed to them. “You’re the lucky ones,” I told them. “It could be worse.”
The next day, we attended to the flock of meat birds, which arrived as chicks at the end of July. After just a week in the
brooder, these birds moved to pasture in August, where they feasted on grass and grubs. In eight short weeks, they’ve reached table weight, which means the time has come for their annual migration to the freezer.
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