Rainforest Chicks

told by Jack  (visiting graduate from Cambridge University)

When I arrived at Golfo Dulce Retreat, one of the first things it was insisted that I see was the chicken coop. Raising chickens in the rainforest sounded daunting to me at first, in an environment so different to the English farmyard that seems the natural background. A quick look into their origin however was a sharp reminder that chickens were first domesticated in the tropics of the Indian subcontinent, and are more comfortable than me in the humid heat!

I watched as two cockerels and a hen happily raked their way round their pen, whilst two smaller enclosures housed respectively a mother with a clutch of chicks, and half a dozen chicks on their own. The sad story of that second cage was relayed; the mother we could see had been sitting on over 15 eggs and, after successfully hatching around half she looked content to give up on the rest. To persuade her to finish the job, the hatchlings were removed and raised by hand, but once the rest were born she refused to take back her first clutch.

Growing up without a watchful eye is never plain sailing though, and a couple of the chicks sadly struggled without a mother. Despite our efforts, they refused to put on weight and grow with their siblings, and eventually gave up entirely. A third chick was taken by a hawk which had dared to ignore the rainforest equivalent of a scarecrow: brightly coloured bunting that radiates from a central tree. After this first attack though, the chicks soon learned to hide whilst the cockerels displayed angrily to the hawk, and thankfully there have been no more casualties.

Not all of our intruders have been so nefarious though; a spider monkey was found helping himself to some of the fruit peelings covering the ground one afternoon but made a swift departure once he was spotted. The proper inhabitants only looked up hopefully at the sound of approaching food, with no care whatsoever for the thief!

Shortly after our arrival, the other hen became broody and just a few weeks ago a pair of adorable young chicks hatched. There is something quite magical when you find the cracked egg and that tiny cheeping ball of feathers at last! From just two laying hens, the coop now holds almost two-dozen inhabitants, and no doubt soon enough they will be providing the retreat with a steady stream of eggs, as well as hopefully a few further additions to the clan!

After four weeks of sitting patiently on the eggs all day, she was looking forward to stretching her legs!

With a regularly handled mother, the chicks were quite happy being picked up within hours of hatching

Simon Mezzanotte