Friday, March 16, 2012

The Moa in My Backyard

Henemoa (right) as a beaky teen
and moa lookalike. Left of her is
Alice. They’re atop the Mark 1
chalet de poulet

Or, Hen of Mystery

Most of my six chickens take their names from strong women. So it would make sense for Henemoa, the Rhode Island Red, to claim connections with Hinemoa, from the great Te Arawa story. It’s a Romeo and Juliet tale but it’s Maori, with a more outdoorsy heroine and a happier ending: brave Hinemoa defies her family, improvises flotation devices and swims Lake Rotorua to join her darling Tutanekai on an island paradise.

Great idea! Sadly, the greater inspiration for this hen’s name was a pun on the word for one of New Zealand’s extinct flightless birds. My Henemoa was a late developer, and when she was a pullet her ridiculously curtailed rear end made her look like a miniature moa, an ostrich lookalike whose various species died out perhaps 500 years ago.

Even the present arrangement of Henemoa’s tail feathers might not win her any prizes at the Kumeu Show. The other hens have celebratory tails; they end on a high. Henemoa just doesn’t, most of the time. Not that I worry about that. These birds aren’t here to be showgirls or to strut a catwalk.

Henemoa (centre), Emmeline (left)
and a hen from Hawke’s Bay. The two dressed
in white have decidedly better taste in tails.
I have a soft spot for Henemoa. In a species popularly thought to be not very bright, she seems a bit more scatterbrained than most. She makes a lot of noise (empty vessels, remember?) and after she joined the flock, I noticed she had one toe missing. Perhaps her gaucheness and another tendency — to inhabit the wrong place at the wrong time — had resulted in an accident in her very early life. Henemoa also reminds me of Henny Penny, the storybook chook who was convinced the sky was falling.

This hen of mine does, perhaps, show a hint of the original Hinemoa’s determination. When I arrive with food, she’s the one who leaps up to knock the container out of my hand, thus getting an early start to breakfast. And as I go about my chicken-run chores, her curiosity (or perhaps her appetite) often prompts her to jump up on a branch so she can observe at close quarters.

She’s also, despite everything I’ve said, no Plain Jane. I liken her to the brunette who passes unnoticed much of the time, only to shock you suddenly with her good looks. Her near relative, Amelia the New Hampshire Red, is appealingly nutmeggy in appearance — the hen next door — but Henemoa is surprisingly glamorous. Her dark feathers gleam; she’s quite the auburn beauty. She has depths that I can only imagine.

Just catch her in the right light and, like me, you’ll know: Henemoa is a hen of mystery.




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