Andy Ninja was always a chicken with a mission. She arrived at our place, in the company of her rather macho sister Harley, already in possession of a name that perfectly captured her special qualities, thanks to the penetrating insights of my chicken-wrangling nieces.
Within a year she’d made her first break for freedom. A quarter acre block just couldn’t contain her ambitions.
Most mornings we’d wake up to find her scratching up the trad in the front garden, her daily constitutional in no way hindered by clipped flight feathers or the locked garden gate. Then one morning she toodled up the drive and didn’t come back.
There was no tell tale trail of torn feathers, but after a couple of days I tried to gently break it to the kids that Andy probably wasn’t coming back. All the fox-baiting national park rangers in the world weren’t going to save a chook on the loose overnight on the mean streets of Berowra.
My eldest was in denial. She hand-crafted a “missing” poster, complete with full-colour portrait and I nailed it over our mailbox. Some kind of closure at least, I figured.
A week later, I get a phone call from some folks down the street. Andy Ninja, it seems, was that proverbial chicken who crossed the road. She had introduced herself to a new family, laid them some eggs and made herself at home in their kitchen. They were in love with her. There were childrens’ tears as the unrepentant adventurer was returned.
Don’t get me wrong. Andy liked to roam, but she knew her own stomping ground. A couple of years back we spent a few months overseas. While we were gone, some young Swedes rented our place. They weren’t keen to be small-holders, so our generous and well organised neighbours, chicken aficionados from way back, offered to take in our birds for the duration.
We gave the chooks a week or so to settle into their new high security quarters – a proper coop, enclosed on all sides with wire, with a sturdy dog-proof outdoor run. After our haphazard fencing and half-baked sleeping arrangements, surely the chooks would be safe and sound in the custody of some proper chicken keepers.
By Day Two, Andy Ninja had made her way home. I returned from work to find her mooching around in our yard. We had stern words and passed her over the fence.
On Day Three, she was back again. Our chicken-wise neighbour assured us confidently that with close wing clipping, there would be no repeat offenses.
We woke up on the morning of our flight out to see this view from the window.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when we arrived in London, to receive a slightly aggravated email from our Swedish tenants asking what to do about the chicken that, despite previous arrangements, had turned up on the premises.
Or to receive another one, a week later, saying that actually, it turns out that they quite liked having the chicken around and what should they buy it for treats.
While we were gone, Andy Ninja was quite the chicken around town, it seems. Our poultry-hosting neighbours would get phone calls at all hours reporting sightings of a neat brown chicken strolling down the main street. Was it one of theirs? Our friends up the drive also got regular visits. Andy would pop into their shed to learn a bit more about welding, or perambulate through their herb garden to monitor the watering.
She survived abandonment by jetsetters. She survived a week on her own on the street. She survived, we suspect, a midnight attack by an ambitious tawny frogmouth, perched, as she was, all alone on the top of the chook dome. At one point, Andy transitioned to become a she-rooster who crowed in the morning and made eyes at her flock mates. And then started laying eggs again. After months under surveillance as a suspect in The Case of the Cannibal Chicken, she emerged, eventually, entirely vindicated.
I have to admit, Andy wasn’t wildly keen when the hefty newcomers arrived and stole her place at the top of the pecking order, but she rolled with the punches. She was bit miffed when her perch, the chook tractor, was repurposed into a brush-turkey-proof brassica zone, but she sighed and settled down next to the pushy new girls on the edge of the potted figs. She outlived her bikie sister and a large percentage of the world’s twenty billion chickens, with their abbreviated and unfree lives.
But she didn’t survive this week.
Something – maybe Marek’s disease, maybe “wet” fowl pox, maybe both – has rolled through our little flock, despite our middle class pretention of expensive, vaccinated hens. Luna quietly expired a week or so ago, and despite an attempt to segregate the sick bird, Andy went a few days after. On her last day, looking horribly under the weather, she simply disappeared, her mysterious ninja powers undiminished by age and illness.
She’s made her final break for it and it looks like she’s got away for good this time. We will surely miss her.