Baby Jo Strikes Back

For a hen at the bottom of the pecking order, Baby Jo really doesn’t have it that bad. But her status in the group is painfully obvious when the eating is good.

For a hen at the bottom of the pecking order, Baby Jo really doesn’t have it that bad. The other hens let her sleep in the coop, and when she recently decided to try to hatch a clutch of eggs in the corner, none of them hassled her.

But her status in the group is painfully obvious when the eating is good. The other hens chase her away from the best clumps of scratch, the biggest pieces of chopped fruit and the juiciest bugs in the horse stalls. She’s the only hen not allowed to eat with the group. It’s sad to see.

But Baby Jo has an outlet. It can’t be easy being the omega, and frustrations no doubt build up. That’s where the English sparrows come in.

English sparrows are the omegas of the wild-bird crowd, at least when it comes to biologists. A non-native species that has driven many less adaptive songbirds to near extinction, U.S. naturalists see the English sparrow as a blight. Those passionate about maintaining bird feeders aren’t too thrilled with these LBBs (little brown birds) either. They come in large flocks, decimate all the seed in a feeder in a matter of minutes, and then fly off, leaving nothing but their poop behind.

Of course Baby Jo has no way of knowing the American ornithologist’s view of English sparrows. Yet, she has somehow picked up on the fact that these birds are below even her on the totem pole. 

Baby Jo regularly makes her stand on our small backyard lawn, where we toss the scratch. This is where she forages for whatever is left after the rest of the flock have moved on to other endeavors. Although she may be the youngest and newest member of the flock, she becomes someone else altogether whenever an unsuspecting English sparrow lands there to scavenge. 

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The transformation is amazing. Baby Jo goes from mild mannered barnyard fowl to something out of Jurassic Park. She lowers her neck, juts out her head and runs at the bird like a velociraptor. The poor sparrow takes off with a surprised chirp, no doubt stunned that a giant gray monster is lunging madly in his direction.

I happen to like English sparrows and think they are charming little birds despite their bad public image. So I was tempted to intercede in this drama by putting some feeders up near the lawn. I’d fill them with chicken scratch and let the sparrows eat out of reach of the demon Baby Jo.

But then I realized that Baby Jo probably needs to have someone she can boss around. Chasing sparrows no doubt makes her feel a bit more powerful in the world when she really has no power at all. So I keep throwing scratch on the lawn, always spreading a little bit more every day than I know the chickens will eat.

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