What the Cluck???
by Rebecca Bresnick Holmes
So I go to pick up Lola (black teenage Silkie) and I see this thing, about an inch long, sticking out of her head. I thought it was a stick or piece of dried grass, but it’s very dark grey. I tried to brush it off, but it wouldn’t go.
I caught her and examined this mystery sprout sticking out of her head. I pulled on it a bit, and it was stuck. Really strange. It was attached to her head. I was torn: if I pull it out, it might hurt her and she’ll be traumatized and won’t trust me any more (to the extent that chickens trust at all) but I really want to remove this blemish from her otherwise perfect hairdo.
I didn’t want to risk the trauma, so I let it go for the moment and reassured Lola that I’d take care of it. I was sure she felt self-conscious about it. Off I went to do some online chicken research, as usual.
After an hour on the computer looking at all kinds of forums and photos, I was more confused than ever. Not only was I more confused about what this might be, but I was also worried about chickens getting sick in the rain (mine seemed to prefer hunting worms in the rain than seeking the shelter I made for them with the cat-saving tarp), various ailments they can develop, and whether I should be cleaning their feet!
Nonetheless, I tried to put aside these other growing anxieties and focus on the problem at hand. Apparently, there are these things called “streamers” that Silkies can have on their heads that may indicate that they are MALE!!! What??!!! Could Lola be a boy chicken instead of a girl chicken? (“Lola” by the Kinks begins to play in my head – Oh, the irony!)
I wasn’t sure, however, that the “streamers” I read about properly described this thing coming out of her head. I decided to check it out again, so off I went to the backyard.
I picked up Lola and examined her head again. She was very patient and the thing looked like the base of a feather, grown long and without the feathers. I decided that it was too long to be one of these “streamers,” which looked like long feathers from the online images. I put Lola back down.
Then I started looking at her tail feathers and comparing them to Fiona’s (I also read online that the male’s rear end feather shape is generally pointier than the female’s). As I’m starting to think that Lola’s might look a bit pointier than Fiona’s, Fiona reaches over to examine the embarrassment hanging off of Lola’s head, and then… plucks it right off!
Lola didn’t make a peep – totally fine with it. Lesson learned: don’t waste time doing internet research about your backyard chickens and let nature take its course.