A dried sunflower head.
You heard me. Now, let me just point out that Peggy and Tina are not fraidy-hens. In fact, there are several things that they should rightfully be afraid of that don't phase them at all. This list includes Nigel, our dog, who, while small, could certainly take a bite out of their legs or neck if he felt like it, and Scampers, the cat who lives in our backyard, whose pretty feisty and good with her claws. The chickens are so unconcerned with Nigel and Scampers that they will walk right between them, causing a convergence of pets that I am not entirely comfortable with. (Happily, everyone practices the survival technique of completely ignoring all the other animals and focusing on me, the provider of food.) So, despite their lack of fear response to actual (unlikely, but possible) predators, when it comes to a dried sunflower head, my chickens exercise extreme caution.
I discovered this fact last week, after my friend Chris very kindly provided me with a big bag of dried sunflower heads from his own garden. I had mentioned to him once that my chickens liked sunflower seeds, so he saved these seed-filled heads especially for them. On Tuesday morning, I strolled down to the coop with what I thought was a wonderful treat for the girls. I figured I'd hang the sunflower on the run fencing, and then the girls could have fun pecking out and eating the seeds over the next few days. That is not what happened.
When I entered the chicken run with the sunflower, Peggy immediately flipped out. She started squawking and flapping and jumping back and forth across the coop. Tina joined in, but with less gusto, as if she wasn't entirely sure what was happening, but trusted Peggy that it was serious. Eventually, both hens scrambled their way into the coop to hide. I was a bit confused about what the problem was, and, honestly, I was late for work. So, I figured I'd just put the sunflower head up as planned and the chickens would eventually calm down and come outside to have their treat. I had also scattered some carrot peels, which they love, in the run, so I figured they would venture out for those for sure.
The following morning, when I went down to let the chickens out for their morning free range, it was clear Peggy and Tina had not left the coop since I last saw them. The carrot peels were untouched, their feeder still had food in it and there they were, huddled together inside the coop. Now, my chickens are extremely food motivated and there is no food inside the coop (just water). They spent a whole day inside, not eating their feed, which they love, or the carrot peels, which they really love, because they didn't want to risk walking past the dreaded sunflower head. That is how afraid they are of this inanimate object.
After shaking my head at the ridiculousness of chicken behavior once again, I removed the sunflower head from the run and lifted the chickens out of the coop and into the yard. They wouldn't go out on their own, just in case the sunflower head was just hiding somewhere out of sight, ready to pounce. Once they realized the sunflower was really gone, they managed to relax a little and are now back to their normal selves.
Happily, the chickens still love sunflower seeds, and Chris' gift won't go to waste. While they weren't looking, I shook a bunch of seeds out of the head and spread them all over the run. Peggy and Tina gobbled them right up, unaware that those tasty treats had come from the very object that had so terrified them the day before. Duh duh dummmmm!