April 7, 2023
Guest blog by Mary Britton Clouse, Chicken Run Rescue
My favorite part of introducing people to our residents is witnessing them hold a bird in their arms for the first time. If I can capture the moment with my camera, it’s added to a collection I call “The Epiphany”.
Dakota’s story begins with a neighbor who found him in their woods and had a change of heart that transformed him from an unwanted “pest” to a vulnerable victim who needed help. An epiphany. Everyone with a heart experiences it when they meet their first chicken, one on one.
Dakota was abandoned in a desolate rural area just beyond a wooded rise, 1,100 feet from the front door of our sanctuary. He survived for weeks in subzero temps, raging winds and record deep snow; subsisting only on what he found in a birdfeeder. Just before the historic storm in mid-February, we got an email:
“We live on Dakota Ave. We came home yesterday from vacation & found a rooster by our front door. Looks like he has been hanging out for a few days because there is a bunch of poop by our front door, lol. Are you missing a rooster? It’s mostly black, has a white mark across the top of its beak.”
She sent a video of him standing at her door. As she filmed, she shooshed him away, banging on the door, gruffly telling him to “go home, get going…you gotta go home now”. Confused, he backed away, unsure what to do or where to go. He was clearly afraid and he knew the further from the house, the less safe he was. It just broke my heart.
“Our birds are safe and warm in the house. This poor bird was dumped on your property by someone who didn’t want a rooster. Chickens do not wander away from their homes unless they are being neglected so he is not there by choice. He is seeking warmth, safety and food. Please don’t chase him away…
Please set out some wild bird seed or bread crumbs for him in the area where he is spending most of his time and leave a trail to an enclosed area- an open shed or garage door would work great. Once he’s in there, close the door and contact us. He will be much easier to catch. We’ll do that part. He is terrified so please help us help him. Bad weather is coming- please don’t chase him back into the woods.”
“I just read your email. Thank you for the helpful information. Yes, he is still here. I have created two trails of bird seed leading into the small door to our garage. I will text or call you as soon as we get him in the garage”
4 hours later:
“We have it in the garage, doors are shut. It’s hiding under one of the cars right now”
We arrived with our nets and a carrier. He was more capable of flight than any bird we have ever rescued- effortlessly gliding 20 feet high and 50 feet in length. With the calculations of a chess master, he evaded our plan to trap him under a car and instead perched on the garage door rail. Bert deftly netted him in mid-air.
The neighbors watched with delight as Bert and I good-naturedly bickered over who got to hold him and untangle the net and get him safely in the carrier. A successful rescue is such an emotional high. We posed the neighbors with their happy faces close to the carrier for a photo op then headed home.
The temperatures had been consistently subzero in double digits for weeks, so the likelihood of serious frostbite seemed inevitable. As soon as we got him home, we rushed to assess what ever medical needs he had and get him settled in a quarantine crate. A 3-week quarantine is standard procedure for new rescues, especially since the fatal bird flu has become endemic (permanent, no longer seasonal). Since he had almost literally been left at our door, it was unthinkable to turn him away. He was meant to be here. We often name birds for where they were found. Dakota seemed perfect. Translated, it means friend.
We told the neighbor approximately 60% of our rescues have lost combs, wattles, toes, even legs, to frostbite. Chickens are Tropical Jungle Fowl and do not belong in a climate with extreme cold and heat like Minnesota. Despite the fact that unwanted chickens are abandoned in alleys, backyards and parks, no feral flocks exist here. They simply don’t survive without shelter. The tips of Dakota’s comb were definitely going to die and break off. His legs and feet were discolored so we monitored anxiously. Most stunning was the amount of bird seed he had ingested. His crop (the “pocket” where food is stored on the right side of the bird’s chest) was so distended it could be seen in profile at a distance. So desperate to eat and stay warm, he gorged and that too could have serious health consequences that sometimes require surgery.
Dakota settled in. His quarantine crate was situated in the last room in the house left without birds- the office. He was warm, safe, and enthusiastic about every food offered. He had a window that looked out into the top of a large spruce. Every day he is given a bit more freedom in the room and tolerated, even enjoyed, being held and having his chin stroked. He could hear the voices of happy birds elsewhere in the house. That makes a huge difference.
Dakota texted a photo to our neighbor that said “thanks for the help. xxoo Dakota”
“How is Dakota doing? Will he need surgery or is his impacted crop improving? I had to Google what that meant…”
“He is doing well! No surgery for crop anyway. His crop emptied by the next morning and he is thriving with good food, water, watermelon, blueberries and a warm, clean room with a lovely view. I suspect he has frostbite on both legs/feet. It can take weeks for the injury to be obvious. Many of our rescues have lost feet and even legs from past exposure. Chickens are Tropical Jungle Fowl and do not belong in this climate. He may need amputations. We sort of specialize in special needs birds so he could not be in better hands. See this: https://opensanctuary.org/non-ambulatory-chickens/ Dakota started crowing the very next morning so he feels safe hearing all the happy chicken noises elsewhere in the house. He needs to do 3 weeks quarantine before we can move him in with the others. He is just a baby- he was dumped because his spurs sprouted and he probably crowed a little. Sex can’t be readily confirmed till they are 4 months old. Whoever dumped him didn’t want a rooster and they may have meant for him to wind up with us.”
“Oh good! I’m glad he is doing well. I will say a prayer that he doesn’t lose any limbs”
Her Facebook page showed an active involvement in dog and cat rescue, but knowing and caring about a chicken broadened her vision because we cared. Compassion can be contagious.
Now she knows Dakota by name, knows his story, worries and prays for him.
We love it when people tell stories of when they understood who they just met and how it changed them. Every May we celebrate International Respect for Chickens month. Epiphany is the theme for 2023. We invite others to find creative ways to open other people’s eyes, hearts and minds about chickens by submitting art, short stories, poems, performance or music to the INTERNATIONAL RESPECT FOR CHICKENS GALLERY OF IDEAS 2023 on our Facebook page.