I went down to the pheasant pen and found something I have been waiting for; I was beginning to give up hope because it is so late in the summer. I've never had chicks hatch the first week of August before.

These eight are a week old now and are a very happy lively bunch. I found them scattered around the house and Momma bird was sitting back on the rest of the unhatched eggs. She wanted nothing to do with the wiggling little peepers. Two of them were very cold and barely moving or breathing. I scooped them up in the front of my t-shirt and held them close to my heart to start warming them. I remember, Grandmother, how you used to pick them up in your apron when you still lived on the farm.

If there were only a few, you would pop them in your apron pocket to bring them in to the house. I remember so clearly the boxes filled with little yellow chicks cheeping behind the wood stove every spring.

I stay and watch the group. One by one, they began shivering and cheeping plaintively. I am such a softie; I cannot bear to leave them there to die. I gathered up the other six and back up to the house we went. I got out a small cardboard box and carefully lined it with newspaper as the chicks waited in the cover tucked in a cloth. They are silent as they watch my every move; bright beady black eyes filled with curiosity. I sat everything up on my desk and used my desk lamp as their warmer. I nestled them all together and watched them begin cooing as they warmed under the rays of the lamp. Soon they were all snuggled closely together sound asleep; I watched their downy little bodies rise and fall with each contented breath. Now I was sure all eight would all survive.

After a sleepless night, in which the cats chased a mouse all around the kitchen; it sounded for all the world as if they were after my little birdies. I trudged from the bedroom to the living room at least twenty times checking on the peeps. I should have known better, I have such good kitties. They never have touched the chicks once in all the years I have raised birds. I simply explain to Osee and Tuffy when I bring the chicks in that these are my babies and not kitty play toys. Once the mouse was caught things settled down somewhat.

At first light, they were awake and peeping like crazy. Eight shrill Peep! Peep! Peep! Peep! Peep! Peeping voices called me out of bed. I walk over to their box, gently lift the towel, and peer in. They stop their plaintive peeps when they see my face. I say “Good morning!” and they tip their soft little brown and gray heads back to stare up at me. They make cooing noises and I peep and coo back at them. They stand up, stretch their little wings, and move about unsteadily on their tiny feet. They make me smile. I check their water and sure enough, they need more. I sprinkle a little food on the bottom and soon they are ready to sleep again. They are so cute with their little wing feathers coming in and tiny tail feathers are beginning to sprout. They love to hop into my cupped hand when I reach into their box. They settle right down and snooze with their chin resting on my thumb. I can feel their hearts beating against the palm of my hand; they feel so soft and fragile.

I feel a surge of maternal tenderness washing over me; I lift my palm close to my face and smell the baby bird scent. The soft down tickles my nose and for a fleeting second, I think I am going to sneeze. I nuzzle them against my cheek and hear the delicate whispers of their breathing. A sleepy black eye opens for a second, then droops closed, and is fast asleep again. I tuck them back in with their siblings and they barely move.

I have strings of bright beads hanging on the sides of their box they peck and pull on. They have shiny bells they can jingle and a mirror in which to inspect themselves. They have pebbles and sticks on which to climb. They get bread crusts and a variety of plants, flowers, and bits of fruit to tempt their appetites. They are nearly as spoiled as my dogs.

The dogs love the little birds, especially Knotty. When I change their box, he sticks his big head in and gently noses the little birds. It is as if he is counting heads to be sure they are still all there. Sometimes he softly licks the tops of their downy heads; they peep and snuggle around him. He lies down on the floor and I take a couple of the chicks out and put them down with him. He stays so still while they peep and climb all over him. When they wander too far, he shivers and whines softly to let me know but does not leave his spot. I think he is afraid he will step on them if he moves. I guide them back between his front paws, he sighs blissfully, and then counts their little heads again.

Usually this is the joy of spring for me but I think it is a special treat to have them late this year. I was so busy earlier this summer that I didn't have the time to enjoy them the way I do now. It will be hard for me to put them out in the pen in a few weeks, but at the same time after a few weeks of peeping all night I will be more than ready to boot them out! For now, they are a joy and delight.

“Shh! Deb's babies are sleeping and we don't want to wake them up.”

Written by Debra Cone