I was heading out the gate on my bicycle to pedal down to the post office when I heard baby chicks chirping in the woods. When I went to check if they were in trouble, I found Ungetsu-hime with a brood of one or two day old chicks. I didn’t even know she was sitting on eggs. What a surprise.
And this is the nest where she hatched her six chicks, a fairy tale nest inside a tree stump with a thick roof of moss and dried ferns. You can see three unhatched eggs near the bottom in the middle of the picture. Below is a closeup of the nest. How many chicks get to be hatched in the woods? These chicks could be the first generation of the wild forest chickens of Bow Hill. If some decades from now you read in Nature or National Geographic about the elusive, mysterious Bow Hill forest fowl, you will know that Ungetsu-hime is the mother of them all.
5 Replies to “A Surprise Every Day”
Were those all her eggs or did other hens lay eggs in the nest in the woods too? Also, what happens with the unhatched eggs? Does the hen just worry about the ones that hatched and abandon the others?
Looking at the chicks that hatched, they do all seem to be hers. Once chicks hatch, a hen doesn’t stay on the nest more than a day or two. She will abandon any eggs that don’t hatch. She has to start feeding and raising the chicks. Chances are the eggs were not fertile, or did not develop normally, or they could be eggs that were added to the nest later by other hens. Hens which are incubating eggs need to get off the nest to eat and go to the bathroom, and while they are off their nest, other hens can lay eggs in the nest. Chicken eggs hatch in 21 days so if an egg is added say four or five days after the hen started incubating, those eggs will not be ready to hatch when the others hatch, and if they don’t hatch within a day or two, the hen will move on with her chicks, and those eggs won’t finish developing.
Thank you for your response. It did raise another question, however. How can the hen have four or five eggs all hatch on the same day? I’m assuming she didn’t lay that many all at once. Does she patiently day by day accumulate eggs until it looks like the right amount and then sit on the lot of them? Sorry to sound like such a city girl!
Hens keep laying eggs in a nest until they have enough eggs to start incubating them. Each hen has her own idea of what is enough eggs, but they usually wait until there are anywhere from 8 to 15 or more. Until they are under constant warmth, eggs don’t start developing. So if there is just one hen laying eggs on a nest, it can take 10 days to two weeks or more before she has enough eggs to start incubating. During this time she doesn’t spend much time in the nest. Once she decides there are enough eggs, she’ll sit on the eggs 24 hours a day to incubate them. This way all the eggs will hatch at the same time. The amazing thing about eggs is that they are designed to say fresh for weeks without refrigeration. When a hen lays them, she coats them with a wet antibacterial film called a bloom. Even if it takes her several weeks to lay all the eggs for her clutch, the oldest eggs are as viable as the newest ones.
Fascinating. I had no idea that an egg could sit around for a month and then be incubated and produce a chick. But that makes perfect sense. However, accumulating 15 or more eggs before nesting seems a little excessive. Must be a young impulsive hen who doesn’t realize what it would be like to have to chase that many chicks!