Helen died this morning a little before dawn.
Her condition hadn’t changed much when I got back from work last night so I set up a heated infirmary ward for her in the bathroom. She seemed to understand that I was trying to help her and didn’t resist being picked up and relocated. She felt very emaciated.
She didn’t move much but stood erect and steady on a bed of newspapers. She drank a lot of water and took cooked oats, blueberries, and omelette scraps from my fingers.
Later she lay on my lap and let me stroke her and seemed very peaceful. I set her on a jury-rigged roost, a 2×4 spanned between the toilet and the bathtub. I collected moths from the windows outside and she snapped them up from my fingers with apparent relish.
She seemed bright-eyed and alert when I turned the lights out so I thought the little feeding might help her pull through. But around 4:30 I woke to the sound of thrashing and by the time I got down from the loft she was on the floor dead.
I buried her up on the hillside overlooking the house.
The others birds aren’t showing any signs of physical distress yet so fingers crossed this wasn’t something contagious. The three older hens do suddenly seem baffled and sullen. They didn’t want to come down from the roost this morning, and aren’t venturing far from the coop. I guess every time they lose a ringleader they have to work through considerable social adjustment.
No doubt in my mind now that they know and remember individuals and suffer some sense of dislocation when somebody dies, possibly something like our grief.