How do chickens have sex?

Before you guffaw at either a. my ignorance or b. my sick curiosity, please note that there is an extremely good reason for my question.

Yesterday, the boychild’s school installed a little incubator with 12 eggs, waiting to hatch, in the lobby.

When I dropped the boychild at school this morning, we went to visit the eggs. We were entranced. One of them, #6, was already jiggling all on its lonesome – a sure sign of life inside!

Though the boychild educated me on how hens lay their eggs on the way to school this morning – “They push them out of their tushies, Mommy, like a poopie” – I had my own unanswered questions.

Like, how the hell do the eggs get in there in the first place?

Though I quickly realized that’s a question for God. I’ll call him later.

The boychild’s teacher approached, and as I marveled at the mysterious ways of the universe, she sweetly reminded me that hens lay eggs each day, whether they are fertilized or not. Right. Of course! If this weren’t so, there would be a major egg shortage in the world, and there would be giant PETA posters everywhere about how egg eaters are mean, avian murderers.

Next, I asked if there was a way to tell the difference between a fertilized and an unfertilized egg when you crack it open. She didn’t think so, though one of the dads in the school said sometimes you can see a speck of blood in the fertilized egg. Interesting, very interesting.

Then I started to think, well how does the egg become fertilized, for God’s sake?  Obviously, I was too embarrassed to ask. I’m a mother, for God’s sake. I should know these things!

But I really didn’t. I imagined a voodoo ritual between hen and rooster, where rooster struts 10 times around fertile hen, clucks once, crows twice and then spits on hen’s beak, producing a little chickie inside hen’s egg. Or some sort of ancient, alien transfer of life whereby hen lays egg, rooster sits on egg and with beams of white light, transforms it from inanimate yolk to a yellow, fluffy chicklet brimming with life.

But neither of these are true. Naturally. Though I discovered, upon googling “How do chickens have sex?” that I was not far off. You see, most birds do not have a penis. This I did not know! Though ducks and ostriches do. Aha! Which explains their extremely aggressive behavior when throwing bits of old bread at them at the zoo and the duck pond. Anyhow, hens and roosters apparently mate by pressing their “cloacas” together. (Pronunciation, please? Does this word rhyme with “maracas” or “Go Asia”?) Apparently, the cloaca is the “single opening” birds use to mate, poop and lay eggs. The rooster shoots his business through his cloaca into the hen’s cloaca,  sperm fertilizes her egg, and new life is laid.

According to Wikipedia, the mating process can “happen very fast, sometimes in less than half a second.” Wow. Now I know why I never wanted to be a hen. They seem so anxious, on edge somehow. Now I know why.

Well, that about sums it up for today. I think I have emerged from this day a wiser, more biologically informed person. I also think I have more empathy for hens. All of which, in turn, has made me feel really good about myself and my parenting abilities. I hope you feel the same way.