One of the great pleasures of being in Brittany is living where there is a pervading sense of silence. There are, of course, some noises such as birds singing in the garden or the sea rumbling in the distance but these don’t intrude. This blog is about the cock-a-doodle-dooing of Henri, a visiting rooster, that brought both pleasure and adventure.
Henri announced his arrival one morning with a burst of his wonderfully full-throated call. His song, which was repeated several times that day, came from the garden next door. His is a sound that we don’t normally hear and that it was in earshot at all represented a real achievement. To get near us, Henri, who had ‘escaped’ from his home around 300 metres away, will have navigated his way across two roads and a field, and around a chapel!
Overnight, Henri moved to the bottom of our meadow, and soon after he had made his early morning ‘wake-up’ call, we were phoned by Annie – a close neighbour – who asked whether she and Beatrice, the rooster’s owner, could go on our land to catch him. They actually failed and, in a state of panic, Henri flew off to take up residence in a copse on the other side of another neighbour’s field. This was the start of Henri’s four weeks of ‘liberty’.
At first he stayed in or around the copse and as it was mid-August, cereals were being harvested and grain was in abundance. It was lovely to hear him singing – sometimes every two hours – but we rarely saw him close-to. On several occasions while he was there, groups of us went down to catch him but when we got near he would fly off.
After two weeks, Henri began to spend more and more time in our garden; first in our orchard, then in our vegetable patch and later sometimes on our lawn. Seeing him close up was a delight; with his gold-feathered mane and touches of shimmering blue/green on his side he was magnificent (see the illustration).
As I gardened I would talk to him and soon discovered that he used at least four ‘words’ – experts say roosters have 20! It was also clear that he responded when I spoke. Somehow we had become respected friends.
Although we loved seeing and hearing him, after a few weeks it was time for him to go home. By now he was showing signs of stress as his feathers were shedding and the tips of his comb were going pale (again see illustration).
We set a trap. In the orchard there is a walk-in cage that surrounds the gooseberries and currants. It was built to keep out birds and mice; if it could keep them out, then if Henri entered it would keep him in. We sprinkled the floor of the cage with grain, left the cage door open and waited.
When I was in the garden I would check on Henri’s whereabouts and at one moment, when I spotted him actually inside the cage, I ran to the door and closed it before he had time to escape.
Beatrice was contacted and four hours later at dusk – roosters are sleepy then – a posse of ten of us met to decide on tactics. Henri looked resigned. With a ring of people placed around the cage I went in and, talking gently, ushered him towards Beatrice and a gloved Nico who were standing by a box with its hinged top open. Soon he was in Nico’s hands and then safely inside the box with its lid closed. There was a spontaneous cheer from the team while inside the box Henri, who had made himself tiny, was silent – he was caught.
Next day I paid him a visit. ‘Coquenpâte’, as he was called before he fled, looked relaxed and happy. Once again he had the run of his large country garden, had a comfortable nest in a tree overlooking the hen coop and was being looked after by loving owners. As I watched him with his flock it was lovely to see him being so gentle, caring and attentive – exactly the sort of rooster the ten or so chickens with whom he shared his garden would have wanted.
Why Coquenpâte had chosen to run away to spend a month in the wild is difficult to imagine. There is a choice all politically-minded roosters have to make – whether it is better to live safely in captivity or to be free in the wild and face risks. For one month Coquenpâte chose to live incognito as Henri and face a life of risk.
As I left, Maloé, Beatrice’s youngest daughter, gave me a picture she had drawn to thank us for helping her get back her beloved rooster (see second illustration). What a treat!
For helping me write this blog I would like to thank Beatrice, Annie, Maloé, Carolyn, Luka, Rohan and Vivien.
The main illustration is a photo of Henri walking across a path on our lawn. The second and lower illustration shows the picture made by seven-year old Maloé that shows Henri’s recapture being celebrated with shouts of ‘Thanks’ to us (‘Roan’ and ‘Jo’) from her, her sister and her mother.