Thursday, March 27, 2008

Beauties and Fiends

Charles Darwin, a great observer of mating fowls, reported that for cocks courting, “beauty is even sometimes more important than success in battle.”
But the typical list of rooster virtues often leaves out (and maybe just takes for granted) that most obvious quality of roosters.The personal choices of hens have been developing rooster beauty since feathers began. Human breeders have tried to advance and elaborate upon it, but the breeders and the hens more or less agree on absolute Beauty, even though neither they nor I can define it. Nobody really thinks that the fourteen inch fingernails on the emperor's uncle, or the twelve foot tail on a Japanese trophy Rooster is more beautiful than nails that can fret a lute or a tail the bird can hold high. . And neither would be an asset in the act of mating or all out battle.
You can see the beauty factor working right here in Chicken town.
From the roost of nineteen roosters, Eric the Aracuna is the first choice of four or five out of our twelve hens, though his beauty is subtle and we might expect them to prefer gaudy George, the other Aracuna rooster.
Aracunas are named after the Chilean Indian tribe which was discovered by the Spanish to be raising them. Long before the Mayflower and the European ancestors of our Plymouth Rocks, Eric's fore-birds came across the Pacific as contributing passengers in Polynesian sea canoes. I myself used to take my hen Miss Kitty on canoe travels and she always wanted to ride on the bow, even though she had had to flap constantly to say aboard, and it would have so much easier to sit on a thwart. She was a great and eager traveler. I know of a hen who roosted on the warm engine block of a pick-up truck one winter night, and the next day rode twenty miles into Ithaca , where she was found wandering the streets with scorched fee.
Anyway, The Aracuna Indians of Chile who met and ate or traded with the Polynesians, and adopted their chickens , bred them forward to be wily, inconspicuous hens (who would evade predators and lay colored eggs) and bearded, milld-mannered, defensive males who would distract predators and win females, but not attack people. These are my kind of chickens. I am not put off by the fact that the hens also are bearded.
Gorgeous George is vainer than Eric and more likely to start fights, or pile on to fights in progress, and often ends up on top of the chicken house after the others try to pull out his hackles and tread on him. Then he stays up there to display and crow. He is great to look at, but his best assets may be his lack of an easy- to-grab comb, his open-field running skill, and his flightiness. These are all characteristics also of the Aracuna hens, especially chicken Honey, who is the first to leave the hen house and the last to return. She's built for speed and can shoot right between the legs of any inflated rooster.

Eric the red Aracuna not only has a subtler beauty than his cousin George, but he also brainier and more stylishly defensive. But both of them, are low in the male pecking order, particularly Eric who is right down there with the Dominikers and is more persecuted..
The persecution of Eric is due to yet another quality of roosters which needs to be added to the list : Namely, Enviousness.
Lyndon Johnson, that America President who most resembled a rooster and who certainly had a bag full of barn yard analogies, remarked that the two things most likely to bring political ruin, are sex and envy. He might have said the same thing about Roosters. Maybe he did.

The eighteen other roosters in his roost envy Eric his beauty and his success with the hens. Some of the others only succeed in mating when they way- lay the hens as they are trying to get in the door to roost in the evening, just like they try to punk the resented Eric on his way home. The others have to screw each other, or fight among themselves for seconds with unwilling hens. They can't feel good about this. A rooster's beauty is as important not just for his mating success, but because of his vanity , which is tied up with his dignity and pride. And then comes humility. Humility appears when dignity has been trampled and plucked, ....or when posturing becomes real fighting and someone looses.....or both loose, as seems to be the case with two of the lower status cocks of Dot's flock of six. They got into a fight with each other last night , bloodied each other , and are now keeping closer company in shared misery and common understanding.
Eric has his quiet dignity, his mild mannered beauty, and only one Dominiker for a friend. I have more than once had to rescue Eric from the gang bangers and shove him in Davey's house. When I put Eric in the house, Davey gives him a rubber salamander, which Eric murders for ten minutes without doing it any harm, but it restores his dignity some.

Have I mentioned that roosters are sex fiends?
Not always, not necessarily, not all the time, but way beyond your teenage dreams.
Chickens in locked houses are like co-ed prison populations. The roosters serially tread and retread every hen that tries to get to the food or water.
After the murder rape of a Dominiker hen I tacked bin lids over the passages between the main hen house and the south room, where, for now, the roosters now roost all by them selves.

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