4/9/2017 This summer brought a record of 5 broody chickens all at once, causing egg-laying traffic jams, and challenged me to find an effective way to persuade them they were wasting their time (Dexter the rabbit had to rent out his pen for a few days). Apart from this, however, Dexter the Rabbit and Winston the Wood Pigeon (occasionally referred to as Winnie in case he’s a girl), have been having by far the most adventures this season. They are considering starting their own newspaper column, or perhaps clubbing together to write a children’s book… So I am handing over to them!
Dexter the Rabbit
Dexter, the impossibly cool and fluffy rabbit with a mad hairdo, has become increasingly cunning about escaping from his enclosure, as he seems to have ambitions to become a free range chicken. He used to like living on the terrace when there were no guests about, and hanging out in the flowerbed. But, having lost some weight since his arrival, he can now squeeze under the gate… so other arrangements had to be made.
At first the goats kept breaking him out of his enclosure, but gradually he developed cunning methods of his own, including jiggling the fence until he managed to pull the pegs out of the ground and unhook the fencing panels. On one of his escapades, he had an argument with a wild rabbit, probably over the controversial issue of who was trespassing on whose territory.
The fence-jiggling problem was solved with the use of tent pegs; however, Dexter soon found another way of escaping that left no clues. Finally I managed to catch him in the act: he climbed up a towel which I had left draped over the roof of the pen (in order to provide some extra sun and rain cover) and escaped over the roof.
That route was soon ruled out, but no doubt he will find a new one soon enough….
He and his sibling fell out of their nest near the front pond, and after more than a day of looking unsuccessfully for the nest and waiting to see if their parents would find them, they were cold, hungry and looking droopy, so I had to do something.
They soon took to their nest substitute, a fleece bag which kept them warm and cosy. A very quick learning curve followed for all of us, but we all got the hang of feeding quite quickly. I brought them in at night, and during the day hung up the bag in the willow tree near to where I found them. Sadly, within a few days Winston’s sibling started to have crop problems and a visit to the vet didn’t solve it.
So poor Winston was left on his own, but this didn’t deter him from eating as much as possible as often as possible, and after a couple of weeks, I started to think perhaps I should give him a name. But how do you name a pigeon when you don’t know if it’s a girl or a boy?
How Winston got his name
On a cold and relentlessly rainy day, I arranged a rehearsal in Winston village church – what a funny name for a village, I thought, though no funnier than Kenton next door. A text exchange started with my friend Mark: ‘I’ve just been visiting my old friend Winston’, I joked. ‘Is Winston some sort of creature?’ Mark replied. ‘No, Winston is some sort of church’. ‘CHURCH HILL!’ was the response (Mark’s address in Kersey).
I thought no more about it until I got home and my baby pigeon flew for the first time. Then, as I was writing notes about my church visit that evening, I remembered Mark’s question. Winston’s a suitably ridiculous name for a pigeon, I thought: I’ll name him after the church I visited on the day of his maiden flight. I texted Mark to thank him for the inspiration and added, ‘so the correct answer to your question is now yes, Winston is some sort of creature’. ‘I knew I was right’, replied Mark.
Since then, we’ve started a game of ‘Where’s Winston?’ (can you spot him?) But he’s usually not far away, and likes to land on my head (which is still a little alarming when I have momentarily forgotten that one of the many pigeons in the garden regards me as Mummy) and tickle me with his beak when he’s hungry.
Although he is now proficient at flying, he is still not entirely proficient at eating on his own, so after an early scare I have been keeping him indoors overnight.
But, like Dexter, he seems to have ambitions to become a chicken… (photo right) so two days ago he graduated to sleeping with the Big Girls (below), which so far seems a satisfactory arrangement all round.
Last week Winston had a health scare involving an expensive and futile visit to the vet, but thankfully everything but my nerves and his vanity seems to have survived unscathed: he is still looking rather scruffy after I accidentally covered his front in vegetable oil during an unsuccessful attempt to empty his crop. He will soon have a bath to try and clean him up, but as it is hard to stop him flying away mid-bath (he’s not keen), he may have to stay a bit scruffy until he finishes growing new feathers.
One of Winston’s favourite places to hang out – apart from on my head – is on the ground with me in Dexter’s run on the lawn. Sometimes he steals Dexter’s napping spot and has so far got away with it. He has also targeted Ilo as a landing pad (never Felicity – perhaps he has heard about her chicken-headbutting reputation). The first few times Ilo bolted – and then, amazingly, he didn’t even flinch. Winston is now able to enjoy his new furry perch without fear of being thrown off.
Winston has started daily sweetcorn, elderberry and pea-eating lessons and is making good progress. I am hopeful that by the time I go on holiday in a few weeks, all that will be required of his pigeon sitters will be to leave some food out for him every day. Which doesn’t, of course, mean he won’t demand attention from time to time…