Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, August 11, 1999

Wild chickens are
nature’s con artists

CHICKENS have got to be the biggest bee-essers in the animal world.

Bee-esser is a word I made up in order to get past the censors. It means bamboozler, flim-flammer or con man. I like it because it looks kind of harmless in print, but has unexpected impact when said aloud. It also has a lot of "e's." Fifty percent of the letters in bee-esser are "e's," which may be some kind of record lexicographically. Lexicographically is a heck of word, too. It looks like someone ate a big bowl of the alphabet and then threw up. Lexicographically. Try saying it three times fast with a mouthful of marbles.

But let's get back to the subject, which I believe was chickens, the biggest bee-essers in the animal world.

I say this because, for the past several days, I have been conducting an extensive investigation of chickens. Wild chickens. Not the kind that go passively to their deaths and become someone's Sunday supper. Those are dumb old Stepford Wives chickens, brain-dead feathered robots.

Wild chickens are something else. A couple of families of wild chickens live in the bamboo grove above my house. They come down in the mornings and evenings to peck at the bird seed I scatter behind the house. There are two mother hens and they each have seven chicks. The two hens don't like each other. If one of the chicks from the opposing chicken family starts pecking for seeds in the other's territory, the other hen chases it away.

The rooster and presumed father of the chicks is something of a deadbeat dad, constantly crowing about his studliness from some unseen perch, but never really helping out around the place.

The chickens have come to accept me as the human who showers them with bird seed, sort of like the way chimpanzees accepted Jane Goodall. I stand on the deck and observe their behavior in the wild, which is how I came to the conclusion they are great bee-essers.

See, one day I'm watching them peck around and the neighbor's cat comes slinking through the grass like a cheetah. But one of the hens sees the would-be assassin and apparently tells the chicks, "Cheese it, the cat!" because the chicks flee into the bamboo. But the mother hen stands and stares down the cat. I'm thinking that the hen is history. Then it charges the cat. CHARGES. The cat flees in terror.

I couldn't believe it. A fully armed cat being bamboozled by a hen the size of a pot-roast whose entire arsenal consists of a small beak.

These chickens survive in a hostile world full of dogs, cats and mongooses and they do it all by attitude. They've got no claws or teeth. They can't run fast. They can't fly. They just waddle around on the ground like feathered Edward G. Robinsons, conning the local wildlife into believing they are tough customers.

Now, some people complain about the increase in feral chickens in neighborhoods these days. I say it's a matter of survival of the fittest. If the local cat and mongoose organizations can't keep the chicken population down, it's their fault. The chickens provide a service to the community, eating insects and providing environmental texture.

The rooster, however, is getting on my nerves. If Mr. Studliness continues to whoop it up about his sexual exploits while I'm trying to sleep, I may have to introduce him to Mr. Air Rifle. And that's no bee-ess.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

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