When a fox targeted a hencoop in Essex, the cockerel, Dude, didn’t take the slaughter lying down. Instead, it seems he led his ladies into battle against the predator – and won. Owner Michelle Cordell found the fox lying dead in the coop when she went to collect the eggs last Saturday morning. She reckons the Rhode Island Reds kicked over their table, knocked the fox out, then pecked it to death. “It’s like ‘Revenge of the Chickens,’” she said.
None of this comes as a surprise to Rhode Islanders, who have long extolled the Red’s hardiness and tenacity, but the tendency in these parts is to understate, so there’s no 100-foot chicken statue within the boundaries of Little Rhody to honor what may be the world’s best-known poultry breed. (My father grew up in South Africa raising Rhode Island Reds long before he ever knew a place like Rhode Island existed – or that he would end up living most of his life here.) Instead, just a small stone marker designates the village of Adamsville as the birthplace of the R.I. Red, signifying the spot where a Rhode Island farmer purportedly cross bred a domestic hen with a red Malay rooster in the 19th century.
Officially the state bird of Rhode Island, the R.I. Red used to be Rhody’s representative totem animal until the quahog walloped the chicken in a popularity contest. There is a Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society in Rhode Island but it’s devoted to a beloved although defunct hockey team. Three Rhode Island Red Clubs exist worldwide, one celebrating the local chicken in Devon, England. Meanwhile, the Rhode Island Red Club of America, originated in December 1898 “on a cold blizzard of a day in a Coffee Tavern in Fall River, Mass.,” now lists Arizona as its mailing address. There is also a separate Scottish R.I. Red Club, presumably because the Scots prefer not to share anything with the English if they can help it.
The bird’s legacy lives on in its global popularity as a dual-purpose chicken (high marks for meat and eggs). Known for producing between 200 and 300 eggs during a 12-month laying period, R.I. Reds can begin laying eggs as early as 6 months. Despite their attributes, the Red is in danger of vanishing as a heritage breed, which is one of the reasons that the South County Museum in Narragansett maintains a heritage flock. They lay about 35 eggs a day, donated to local organizations. And around every Fourth of July, the museum hosts the feathery fireworks of 100 or so baby chicks popping out of their brown shells.
The friendly fowl were also accomplices in an anonymous prank a couple of years back in Pennsylvania, when a Philadelphia school was closed after 85 Rhode Island Reds were discovered milling about its corridors.
What is the strangest animal behavior or encounter you’ve experienced in Rhode Island?