The Secret Life of Poultry: The Story of Squirt

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Jett Chapmann lives in Reno, Nevada, and has a reputation as an animal lover and wildlife rehabilitator. He spent years volunteering at Eastern Sierra Wildlife Care in Bishop, California, where they specialized in the medical care and rehabilitation of wild local animals such as birds, reptiles, and mammals. Although no longer a volunteer, when Jett moved to Reno he brought his care and expertise with him.

While volunteering, Jett learned invaluable skills in raising orphaned wild birds. Helping wild birds grow and develop normally is challenging and far different than facing the needs of raising livestock. Where domesticated poultry hatch young that are ready to run and find food, most wild birds are completely unable to care for themselves and require around-the-clock care. They have intense needs, and if not cared for by a knowledgeable individual, they may die.

Knowing the challenges of raising wild birds, friends and family would call on Jett to rehabilitate baby orphaned birds that were unable to return to their parents or nest. Rising to the occasion, he would provide for these birds and release them when the time came.

Squirt sitting in a dish

One day last year, Jett was contacted by one of his friends who hatched and raised homing pigeons. During an unprecedented Nevada storm, the pigeon coop flooded and the parents drowned, leaving behind two new hatchlings.  Distraught and not wanting the remaining birds to pass away, the friend implored Jett to take them in.

Of course, Jett accepted the challenge. “Out of the two, I could only save Squirt,” he recalled. He put in the work and gave Squirt the care he needed. Squirt came to Jett blind and bald, but soon grew into a fledgling under Jett’s watchful eye.

Once Squirt was grown, Jett let him out, but the release did not go as planned. “I would let him out when I went to work, and then he would be waiting for me when I got off. I would open the front door and he’d walk right into the house and jump up in his cage.” Squirt quickly won everyone over and became part of the family.

Squirt was acting like he was nesting and would gather his toys and sit on them. Jett verified his gender through a veterinarian, but males help in the rearing of babies.

After a while, Jett decided it was too dangerous to let Squirt out to fly during his workday and opted to keep him in a spacious cage with toys. Soon after he noticed some strange behavior. Squirt was acting like he was nesting and would gather his toys and sit on them.

Confused, Jett took him to the vet to be sexed. “I thought he was male and he was! A lot of people don’t realize this, but in the pigeon world both parents sit on the eggs and help care for young.”

Squirt’s newly hatched chick.

In late November last year, Jett decided to put a chicken egg under Squirt. “I have 35 hens and one rooster. The fertility chances were low, but it was more or less to make Squirt happy,” he reported. He placed the smallest egg he had from his buttercup hen, and all but forgot about it.

Then, on December 10th, Jett received a call while he was at work. “It was my wife, she was excited! She said ‘I think Squirt is hatching that egg, I hear peeping!’”

Jett couldn’t believe his ears. He rushed home and sure enough, Squirt was the proud father of a new baby chick. “He was so gentle with her. He was preening around her beak and her eyes, he was completely babying her.”

Squirt’s chick, December

Jett knew the chick had a few days before she needed to eat, so the next chance he got he stopped at a feed store and asked some advice. They recommended leaving her in for a little bit. Jett was worried, however, because Squirt was trying to feed his chick like he would a baby pigeon via regurgitating food. He ended up taking her out because the species language barrier was too large.

“Kind of a unique bird, she was laid by a hen, hatched by a pigeon, and raised by humans,” Jett told me. He put another egg under Squirt to help with the loss of his chick, but that egg never hatched.  

Squirt is doing well now, as is his unofficial daughter. The chick he hatched out has grown into a friendly little mixed pullet with a unique background. Jett decided to name her December in honor of her birth month. “She’s a funny-looking thing because her dad is a Naked Neck, so she got that from him,” Jett told me.

December in her grow out pen

Jett will introduce her to the main flock of chickens soon now that she is big enough to fend for herself. Currently, she lives in a cage he built for her next to the chicken run so she can become acclimated to her future feathered family. “December likes to see the other chickens and hear them, I’m letting her get used to them.”

Originally published in the October/November 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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