I never really thought about the etymological root of the word cocky until my family got chickens. Five hens and one rooster who I named Maurice. Interacting with Maurice has been an interesting experience in inter-species communication. Chickens are not, on a whole, very smart and its possible to see certain individual cognitive glitches in their behavior, my favorite being that it takes them a very long time to understand that just because they can see through chicken wire doesn't mean they can walk through chicken wire. I have to assume the part of their visual cortex that handles environmental navigation tags areas above a certain opacity as not obstructed for the same reason we as humans wouldn't expect to be blocked by tall grass. It's a more useful heuristic when dealing with foliage than a metal lattice and I've watched several hens wander back and forth in front of the same two feet of fence as though a hole will reveal itself if they just kept at it.

Another glitch I've witnessed is that Maurice thinks he needs to fight me. This was funny the first dozen times but at this point it's kind of a routine for him. I know for a fact that this is not a universal response. I've seen him run from dogs, horses, and me when I wear a rain poncho which apparently breaks up my profile enough that I no longer register as a human. He understands self-preservation. He ignores squirrels even when they eat the chicken food. Yet, he insists on attacking me when I get between him and the hens, or when I walk to close to him, or just when he's in a bad mood. What's more, he acts like he's just picking at food when he's planning to attack, actually employing weak deception. That may sound like my overactive imagination but the process is fairly easy to recognize when he's doing it because he makes slow but persistent progress towards me and never lets me out of his field of vision. It's actually funny because it says a lot about chicken psychology that he thinks I can't recognize feigned nonchalance.

What galls me is that on some level he has to believe that he and I are on the same level, that I fit into the chicken social fabric and that I represent some sort of threat to his dominance. This is really weird to me. I'm four times his height and thirty times his weight and yet somehow he still thinks I'm in the pecking order. How? Why? What makes me worthy of his fowl machinations? The only thing I can think of is that I'm the only challenge he's ever know and that's really all there is to it. It's almost enough to make me feel bad for kicking his butt every time. Almost.


IRON NODER X: XTREME XCELLENCE