When I’m cleaning our barn and visitors come in, I often hear them remark, “wow, I didn’t know this was out here!” It’s true – our barn is tucked away around a corner, far from the main shelter building. Often, the only impression people get of it is a vague, far-away, cock-a-doodle-do echoing across campus.

While it’s fun to go out and observe the residents, the true fun comes for the people who go into the enclosures and clean. I am grateful to be one such person. While I love all the animals I care for out there – pigeons, doves, even sheep and goats on occasion – the ducks and chickens hold special places in my heart.

Most animals in our barn are birds, and we see such a rainbow of personalities. In general, our birds are rather shy, and not comfortable being approached by humans. However, you just need to find the right key to unlock their friendship.

Roosters are our most frequent guests. They aren’t allowed in most parts of the county, so when people buy chicks online and some turn out to be boys, they bring them to us. My favorite thing to do with the roosters is bring a few grapes when I clean. Just like with a frightened dog, I toss a few pieces on the ground so they get the idea that I have something good. And then I crouch and wait. Soon enough, increasingly inquisitive chickens walk right up to me, and peck chunks of grape out of my hands, their beaks growing sticky with all the juice. Birds who have never let me touch them approach with seemingly no fear, and even in those short moments my perceptions change. The first rooster to run up and check me out when I enter the stall is the last to take a grape. A rooster who I thought to be the shyest of his group becomes the most outgoing, starting long and intricate battles of grape keep-away with his brethren.

Another favorite barn activity is caring for ducks. We’ve occasionally been lucky enough to host very friendly ducks. One young one named Po enjoyed sitting on my back and grooming my hair with her beak. Another quacked and quacked until I picked her up. Then, she proceeded to wrap her neck over my shoulder – definitely the first time I’ve been hugged by a bird. It should be no surprise to experience these things; after all, all of the avian species we keep in the barn are social animals who need companionship. However, like the dogs and cats most of us are more familiar with, sharing such a connection with these animals feels like a blessing every time.

Our barn residents are a hidden gem at Marin Humane, and I’d encourage anyone interested in becoming more involved to do so! In fact, one very easy way to do that is to encourage anyone you know interested in joining the ranks of backyard chicken keepers, to adopt chickens from Marin Humane or a rescue. It will make for fewer roosters who have to come stay at the shelter. For however much we love them, we’d prefer they be happy in forever homes.