The Newborn Chick Thought She Was His Mom

After a devastating tornado, caring for the miracle baby bird was a gift from God.

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- Posted on Apr 30, 2020

Donna Winningham with Twister

At her Cookeville, Tennessee, home, Donna Winningham raises Svart Hona chickens, more commonly known as Swedish Blacks. They’re rare and unique. The chickens are totally melanistic, meaning that every part of them—feathers, wattles, comb, meat, bones, feet, and even eyes—is black. While Donna admits that she loves having a supply of fresh eggs, “Mostly I keep chickens because I feel so calm and relaxed when I'm with them." 

In the backyard, Donna has a hen house with four nesting boxes inside. Early this spring, for some unknown reason, all the hens laid their eggs in the same box. Because she feared none of the hens would claim the eggs and sit on the nest, Donna took the eggs into her house and carefully placed them in an incubator.

In the early morning hours of March 3rd, an EF-4 tornado tore through Cookeville and the neighboring area, destroying more than 200 homes and killing 19 people. On that same morning, several miles east of where the tornado touched down, one of Donna’s eggs began to crack open. A tiny black chick slowly emerged. Donna named him Twister.

As it turned out, Twister was an only child; None of the other eggs were viable. “I saw this precious baby as a sign of hope in the midst of the horrible tragedy our community was suffering,” Donna says. Because she was the first living creature the chick saw when he was born, Twister “imprinted” on Donna. “I’ve raised chickens for 20 years,” she said, “but this was the first time a baby chick ever thought I was its mother.”

Twister followed Donna everywhere. He made happy little noises whenever they were together. He took naps on her shoulder. He kissed her face. And on Maundy Thursday, as Donna watched church services online, Twister sat on her lap and cocked his head as the minister read Jesus’ words to Peter: “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

During the day, Twister stayed in the chicken coop outside. At night, he snuggled down under a heat lamp on Donna’s covered porch. But something went horribly awry when Twister was only six weeks old. Donna’s husband found her chick dead on the driveway. “He wasn’t bloody or mangled,” Donna said. “I guess we’ll never know what happened to him.” Heartbroken, she wrote a love note to her baby chick and placed it, along with a wooden cross, in a box beside his body. She buried Twister in the backyard.

“I cried the whole day,” Donna said. “And I still have some tears left. But I’m strangely comforted, too. Even though I had my little tornado miracle chick for only a short time, it was a sacred and beautiful experience. I got to be his mama! It’s a gift from God I will always treasure.”

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