Sunday afternoon’s plans were derailed by the discovery of a fourth egg beginning to hatch. Cherisse and I set up in front of the nesting box as if we were attending a ball game. The event proved just as slow, and after an hour and a half we realized we could safely break for lunch. We checked back throughout the afternoon, watching as the shell kept cracking further, breaking off in pieces to expose the thick membrane (which is rubbery and strong—like an inner tube). Soft peeping came from inside the wriggling egg—especially loud when one of the baby chicks took a peck at it.
At last, after 6 pm, the movement in the egg became more determined. Part of a leg pushed through, skinny and prehistoric looking. A little clawed foot clenched and unclenched until finally a second leg emerged. The mother hen had been watching, and began to pull at the membrane which had adhered to the body. The other babies, who watch and imitate their mother, began to help, and we became alarmed for the safety of the hatchling. We shooed the babies away while the mother kept plucking at the membrane and eating it, along with bits of shell, quickly, before her other babies could get it. The hatchling got tossed around in the process, giving little peeps and moving its legs and wings. When it was clean we thought the mother would gather it under her, but she didn’t—it just lay in the pine shavings. I tried to push it under her; she pecked me but I got it close and hoped she would do the rest. I fear it got too cold, or is defective in some way, and so the mother doesn’t want it. She did however try to help it get free of the egg, and it worked so hard to break through, it seemed quite feisty. By this morning the little bird was under its mother and still breathing, but it hasn’t fluffed out. So we can just wait and see what happens today.
Meanwhile, Sunday evening had one more bit of baby excitement. Oliver has what is known as a “gentle mouth”—he can carry something without biting down or harming it. This is a great trait in dogs used for hunting, as labs often are. He is also a lover of things that squeak. Cherisse was outside picking up the gardening tools scattered about from our sporadic day’s work when she noticed the dogs were very busy…and then that Oliver had the tell-tale sign of hiding something in his mouth (his gums puff out). He trotted off with his prize but did drop it when Cherisse told him to. It was a newborn bunny, almost black in color and smooth-skinned—it looked more like an oversized mole with long ears than a bunny. We picked it up with gloves—it was unharmed and possibly too young to be frightened—and we brought it back to the grassy den Oliver had discovered. I set the bunny in the cavity and it burrowed in more deeply, hopefully none the worse for its adventure and soon to be enjoying the bounty of the vegetable garden next door to its house.
The chick we watched hatch on Sunday died Monday afternoon. Perhaps it was weak to begin with, and so had to work too hard getting out of its shell. Or the struggle of getting out made it too weak. We’ll never know. However, we were especially sad because we had cheered it on throughout the miracle of its emergence from the shell.