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Science World’s Chickens in a Home Away from Dome

Duncan Martin has been around chickens since he was a young boy in rural Vermont.

One day, a shy and elderly farmer showed up on his family's doorstep with a cardboard box of newly hatched chicks and mimeographed blueprints for a simple chicken coop.

"This farmer gave away everything he produced,” says Duncan. "He must have helped dozens of people in our town to keep their own chickens."

Today in Vancouver, Duncan continues that legacy, designing and building his own urban coops for backyards and being part of an informal network of support for people raising chickens.

When Duncan learned that Science World chickens Betty and Vanta needed a place to stay while our dome is closed to non-essential staff, he volunteered to take them.

"He came to pick them up the same day," Alex Johansen says. "It was great."

Alex is a program specialist at Science World, and one of her roles is curating our Ken Spencer Science Park, an outdoor gallery that engages visitors with subjects like sustainability, gardening and unstructured play.

Duncan built the science park's chicken coop, a spacious home accentuated by unique features like a green roof and barrels to catch rainwater. "Duncan is our go-to chicken guy," Alex says.

Now, Duncan gets to spend his days with the chickens at his home in East Vancouver as he builds coops for new customers. He usually sells 1-2 coops per month. But in the last two weeks alone, he's gotten 9 orders.

His new houseguests Betty and Vanta are very busy, too.

Duncan shares videos of their amusing antics, like this uncanny mirroring game played by Betty and one of Duncan's flock as they work out who gets to be at the top of the new pecking order.

The Science World hens are adapting easily, evidenced by the fact that they continue to lay the same number of eggs every day.

"They haven't skipped a beat," Duncan says.

Birds of a Feather

"One of the best parts of my job is hanging out at the chicken coop and watching Betty and Vanta being their funny little selves," Alex shares from her apartment in East Vancouver where she's been working from home for over three weeks now. "There are so many things I miss about them."

Alex liked to challenge kids visiting the Science Park to observe the hens for behaviours that demonstrate their pecking order: who eats first, who gets the best roost, and who puffs out their feathers to make themselves bigger.

"The kids can tell pretty quickly that it's Betty," Alex laughs. "You try to sprinkle treats in two spots, but she'll just run over and make sure to eat Vanta's food, too."

But Vanta's position lower in the hierarchy has its perks, Alex says. "She can be shy and nervous around people. Betty protects her and helps her feel safe. They're quite sweet together."

She misses "her ladies" fiercely, but seeks comfort in the bit of Science World she was able to bring home: dozens of seedlings in germination trays for transplantation into the park's gardens.

Her long list of food--from alyssum to zucchini--are all freshly sprouted, and the beans are flourishing first, thriving from their newspaper pots and threatening to overtake her studio apartment.

"I'm going to have to crawl out of my bean fortress when this is over," she laughs.

While Science World is closed, Alex encourages families to access our nature-focussed online resources, like these fun activities about  plantsbiodiversity and animals

Spending a small amount of time outdoors every day--while making sure to stay 6 feet away from others--is good for mental health.

On her lunch breaks now, Alex takes a walk past a nearby tree to visit a female Anna's hummingbird, identifiable by her metallic green feathers and native to the west coast of BC.

Until she can return to the dome with Betty and Vanta, this bird is the new winged highlight of Alex's day.

"It might be the same hummingbird, because they can be territorial," Alex shares excitedly. "And she lets me get super close. We just hang out for a bit. I watch her sit and preen. And then I go on my way."

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