Spring had arrived, and I was engaged in a battle of wits against my chickens. Worst of all: The chickens were winning. Rather than laying eggs in their nest box—the clean, cozy nest box I lovingly filled with fresh straw each week—my hens were disappearing into my Oregon backyard to do the deed in secret. No matter how hard I searched, I couldn’t find the chickens until after they hid their treasure. Which meant I couldn’t find “my” eggs at all.

Hiding eggs is a trait my flock inherited from their ancestors. In the wild, the safest nest is the best-concealed nest, yet I was still surprised that my domesticated cluckers would connect to their untamed roots like this. I felt betrayed. I’d given them a beautiful coop and a garden filled with warm places to sunbathe and shade for rest. Why wasn’t what I provided good enough?

Of the entire group, my tiny, speckled Belgian d’Uccle, Emmylou, was vanishing the most often, so I followed her like a spy. When she ventured beneath a large bush, I dropped to all fours and peeked behind the lower branches. I only found dirt. When she sat below a patch of shady leaves, I reached once more to check for eggs. Nothing again. One time, when Emmylou popped under the gazebo, I thought, surely, that would be the place. But there were no eggs there either! As the days passed, I peered into every chicken-size nook and cranny I spotted, but never found a single one of their hiding spots.

Though my careful surveillance yielded no rewards, it did teach me things about my hens I had never noticed before. Phryne, a white Polish with a flop of eye-covering feathers on her head, preferred to preen in the safety of leafy branches. Thelma and Louise, two red hens I’d rescued from an egg farm, loved to fan themselves out on the warm bricks of my patio on a sunny day. Eventually, observing these habits became so enjoyable that I stopped tailing my birds entirely and instead simply started hanging out with the flock.

Under the Henfluence

Under the Henfluence

Under the Henfluence

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Not long after, I spent a leisurely afternoon reading outside, while the chickens milled about nearby. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Emmylou pop out of a salvia plant. Her bearded face looked both ways, as if checking for trouble, then she quickly ran to join the others. This, I now knew, wasn’t normal chicken behavior, so I got up and searched the bush. Half-hidden by dirt and dappled sunlight, there they were: 12 perfect small, white eggs. By no longer obsessing over the prize, I’d finally found it.

While it had been easy to assume the flock and I were competing for eggs, in that moment, my lesson was clear: Really, they were just teaching me how to live at a hen’s pace. Now, I look forward to our game every spring. Sometimes, I even win.

Tove Danovich is the author of Under the Henfluence: Inside the World of Backyard Chickens and the People Who Love Them.