Three calling birds

I’m finding the language of hens fascinating. Here are some of their sounds, from loudest to quietest:

AAAARRRKKK-ark-ark-ark-ark-ark – A long, very loud, drawn out call. Based in the back of the throat, employing the glottis between sounds. Often repeated for what seems a long time. The neighbours around the block will probably hear this one. What does it mean? Something momentous has happened. An egg laid. A major breach of hen protocol perhaps, such as another hen sitting on your egg or hogging the nesting box when you are desperate to lay your egg? These options seem likely, as the call tends to occur around the entrance to the nesting box. Many people say that this call is the hen announcing she has laid an egg. I’d say that is something to make a fuss about. Did you know the rounded end comes out first? Ouch!

SQUAWK! SQUAWK! SQUAWK! Loud, high-pitched and with a tone of panic. At this point, the hens are running in all directions, in a flutter of feathers, probably to evade something like this:

Well, he does practise on a stuffed duck.

WWEERRKK! WWEERRKK! WWEERRKK! A loud, sharp sound. High pitched, almost a whistle. This call is accompanied by the neck stretched up, head swivelling like a periscope. It seems to indicate that the hen has spotted something out of the ordinary which may pose a danger. A warning call.

EK EK EK EK A quiet sound with rising inflection made as the chooks browse together or as they follow me about the garden. It is like a voiced question mark. I picture little question marks floating over their heads.

BOOK BOOK BOOK BOOK Mid-volume when running to see what I’ve brought them. Low volume when used in everyday activity such as scratching in the dirt, or grazing on the grass. Perhaps a contented sort of sound, or a “nice bit of earth here” moment.

MUTTER MUTTER MUTTER MUTTER Lowish in volume. Often with a rising inflection at the end, giving it a tone of peevishness or complaint. They make this sound when I’m getting them their morning mash or their evening mash or … anything, really.

Hens also do a kind of percussion. When they jump down from something such as a low wall, they make an echoey thud which reminds me of the settling of the voice box of a teddy bear when you turn it over to make it growl.

TRRRIIILLL TRRRIIILLL TRRRIIILLL My favourite call. Very quiet. Often overheard when they are settling for the night. Almost like purring. A quiet, calming sound.

Good night.

A painterly eye

Now that the art galleries are closed, I’m pleased I spent so much time carefully viewing each painting in the Frances Hodgkins European Journeys exhibition on three occasions. By my third visit we knew more about Covid-19 and I was not keen to use the touch panels! There was an elderly couple carefully viewing the paintings. I felt quite sorry for them (even when one of them sneezed copiously); they looked quite frail. It would be a last treat, I expect, as before long over-70s were asked to remain at home.

I took note of who owned the paintings. The Auckland Art Gallery seems to own most of them. Other owners include the Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Papa, the British Council, Dunedin Art Gallery, and some private owners such as the Fletcher Family Trust. I was a little disappointed not to see the painting entitled Loveday and Ann. I looked it up online and found it is currently with the Tate St Ives. This seems fitting, as Frances Hodgkins lived and worked there for some time after she had to return to England from France at the beginning of World War I. The painting is dated 1915 and had two private owners (one of whom inherited it) before being purchased by the Tate London in 1944. It shows two women with a basket of flowers. The different characters of the women are quite striking, not to mention the bright colours.

The striped chair in Loveday and Ann reminds me of Hodgkins’ self-portraits which feature a favourite chair with objects belonging to her arranged haphazardly. I like this way of doing a self-portrait.

After my second viewing of the exhibition, I found the way I looked at things was enhanced. I would be struck by how a scene looked like one of her paintings. Even the pink bathroom cloth hanging over the window catch with pink flowers in the garden beyond reminded me of the rose tones she used in her later work particularly. She had a number of paintings which showed objects in the foreground and views through an open window or door.

The first time I experienced this “painterly eye” effect, was on observing my hens scratching about under the raspberries.

I wasn’t sure, but I thought one of Hodgkins’ paintings featured hens. On my third visit I found it.

This is an early work, painted in 1914; watercolour and charcoal. It is entitled Barn in Picardy. (I’ve also caught the reflection of the exit sign in my photo!) This painting is owned by our art gallery, so I look forward to seeing it more often.

Many of Hodgkins’ paintings respond not just to landscape in the many places she worked, but to events at the time, particularly wartime. In World War I she tended to paint portraits or inside scenes, as she could come under suspicion for painting outside in St Ives, on the Cornwall coast. In World War II more abstract trends in painting seem evident in her work, but rendered in her distinctive style. Her portraits too, could make social comment, such as The Edwardians (1918).

I like this photograph of her, particularly her woollen socks! Worn over thick stockings, I could see, by looking closely at the bigger-than-life photo on the wall at the exit from the exhibition. Yet bare arms. Practical considerations, perhaps when painting. And does her slumped posture indicate how grateful she is to sit after painting for long hours? She was 76 in the year this was taken (1945).

The Press today lists online exhibitions we can visit while the galleries are closed. A nice way to feast on visual experiences and nurture (code cracker word today) the painterly eye.

Living room

My niece has decided the chooks may stay with me as they are happy here. “We’ve bonded,” I told her. I’m not entirely sure how this happened. Looking back at my earlier posts, I noted that I found them slightly sinister, messy, and sometimes gross. I also felt responsible for their welfare.

They have caused all sorts of mayhem, digging holes in the garden, stripping tomatoes from a plant, pooping on the door mat and outdoor furniture, and digging up a planter. Was there room in my small garden for these fowl?

I wondered how long it would take till they’d wrecked the whole garden, but found there were some benefits. They have worked some patches of soil to a fine tilth, great for new planting as long as I can protect the plants. Despite their little brains, the chooks are able to comprehend tone of voice, particularly when I express disapproval! I can have a lunch plate composed of garden produce – and home-made bread. It seems there is room for us all.

They often peck on the windows when they see us inside, occupy the back door mat, and wander inside if the door is left open. Maybe this is endearing. A couple of eggs a day helps. Watching them puts you in the present moment, a distraction from the ‘interesting times’ we are living in. Their care structures the day, that’s for sure: giving them kale leaves in the morning, a fresh bowl of mash and fresh water, cleaning out the nesting box, checking they have enough oyster grit, picking up poop, swabbing the deck after they’ve been let out in the afternoon (it seems cruel to leave them in the enclosure all day), filling in holes they’ve dug, putting up more barricades to keep them out of the vegetable plots, and saving some corn cobs from our dinner as a treat before they take themselves off to bed.

Today, I put a pea straw bale in their enclosure. They now have quite a living room.

Popcorn inspects the ‘sofa’.

Hen Party

Dora makes a bit of a racket first thing when the other two are still in the nesting box and I wonder if she gets a bit lonely. To entertain her, I put a mirror in the enclosure and she seemed quite taken with it.

I let her out of the enclosure early Monday morning and she kept me company while I finally tackled the weeds in the paving stones. She would peer into my face, and I wonder if she was looking at her reflection in my glasses. We did a darn good job. Now I can look out at the garden without seeing the work I need to do. I’ve left the little pansies which have self-seeded.

I heard a radio interview this week with a woman who keeps chooks. She said that the red or brown shavers are very sociable, will follow you around and can even be picked up for a cuddle. Apart from the cuddles, that sounds like Dora (aka Satay) and Betty (aka Butter). Popcorn, on the other hand, is a leghorn and they tend to be a bit stroppy and flighty. This sounds like her. At the moment she is broody, so I have to pick her up out of the nesting box to make sure she eats and drinks and runs around a bit. Today I resorted to blocking off the entrance so she couldn’t get back in – but she was persistent. Betty often gets in the nesting box with her and does her best to push her out – not aggressively, just gently. Perhaps she overheard my neighbour (who had brought them some garden greens and windfall apples) telling me that chooks can die of overheating and starvation if they nest too long.

Popcorn spent a lot of time, while in exile, perched on the garden seat.

Then, after a dust bath, she groomed herself on the outdoor chair beside me. She is plumper and more feathery than when she first arrived – they all are – and their feathers are quite amazing. Check out her shuttlecock tail feathers.

Her head seems almost to rotate as she preens. She has little fluffy ear tufts.

Meantime Betty, in tea-cosy pose, sat on the mat between us, drifting in and out of sleep.

She began to groom herself too, showing off the patterns and caramel tones of her feathers.

Dora took a look at my feet.

And I took a look at hers. Look at those toenails and how she balances on one alligator-skin foot while the other curves elegantly.

It was a very together time. Hence the title of this post.

What was Dora thinking as she inspected my feet? What would you put in a thought bubble above her head? E.g: “I can see the gin and tonic has gone straight to her feet” or, “This explains the qwerty keyboard”.