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Meet the lotus eaters

PUBLISHED: 08:11 28 March 2014 | UPDATED: 08:42 28 March 2014

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AUG 20, 2013: Michelle Dunn studies her chickens' desire for certain flowers

Michelle Dunn studies her chickens' desire for certain flowers

Hummingbirds are famous for being able to drink nectar from flowers whilst on the wing. Bees are significantly less graceful in flight, but they too can take nectar and pollen from flowers. It had never occurred to me that chickens can also do the same thing.

Not on the wing, of course – even the dumpy bumblebee can fly rings around a chicken. But chickens have other ways of getting what they want. Low-growing flowers, for instance, can be easily accessed from the ground. A chicken’s beak is not a very surgical instrument, so the process can be rather messy – our chickens tend to rip flowers apart, or simply swallow the whole thing, petals and all. Wallflowers are an especial favourite, with heather coming a close second. Nasturtiums are also popular, and most of the big daisy-like flowers (rudbekia, echinacea, etc) will get their petals nibbled.

Thankfully, there are flowers which the hens are not interested in – lavender, daffodils and irises are always left alone. We have plenty of poisonous flowers growing in the garden such as monkshood and laburnum, and these are completely ignored by the hens. Dandelions are reportedly popular with chickens but mine must be spoilt, as our abundant crop of dandelions is ignored by our chickens (although greedily devoured by wild rabbits).

This year, I discovered that my chickens, not content with gobbling up my wallflowers, now had designs on my trees. We have a splendid ornamental cherry on the front lawn, and one morning I noticed the cockerel standing underneath it with a posse of interested hens. When the cockerel had their full attention, he leaped up as high as he could and grabbed a cherry blossom in his beak. As the cockerel fell back down, the flower came loose from the tree and dropped to the floor, where a hen devoured it with gusto. The cockerel repeated his performance for about quarter of an hour (approximately seventeen blossoms) before the hens remembered they had some wallflowers to destroy and wandered off to find other ways to annoy me.

This certainly explains why I never have any low-growing cherries or plums in my garden – those that make it past the blossom stage without being eaten by chickens invariably get pecked to bits when they fruit. It’s just as well chickens can’t fly as well as hummingirds, or I doubt I’d get any fruit at all!

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