All the Birds

Shelby Lyn Snipes is the Fall 2020 Collections Intern at Andalusia. Her semester-long project includes working on digitizing and cataloging historic photos for the collection. She graduates May 2021 with a degree in English Literature from Georgia College and State University.

One of the most well-known facts about Southern author Flannery O’Connor is her love of peafowl. Flannery acquired numerous brightly colored peacocks and peahens during her residency at Andalusia. Even today, there are two peafowl at Andalusia to represent Flannery’s love for the animals. However, many people do not know that Flannery raised more than just the King of Birds. She had many different types, including chickens, turkeys, geese, pheasants, quail, and mallard ducks.

Flannery’s interest in birds began when she was six and taught her chicken to walk forward and backward, which caught the attention of the Pathé News. Flannery said in her article “King of the Birds,” “From that day with the Pathé man, I began to collect chickens.”[1] From then on, her collection grew, and Flannery became known for her love of birds. The first memory that Flannery’s first cousin Frances Florencourt has of her involves a chicken. Frances said, “I remember sitting on the swing on the front porch of Greene Street, and Flannery walking by with this bantam [chicken] on a leash, and that is my first real memory of her.”[2]

Friends and classmates remembered her for the interesting names she would bestow on her pets. She named one chicken ‘Amelia Earhart.’ One day Amelia went missing, and a young Flannery O’Connor surprised several classmates and teachers when she ran screaming through the woods, screaming that she had found her lost chicken. Flannery would even dress her birds. In “King of the Birds,” she explained, “I could sew in a fashion, and I began to make clothes for the chickens.”[3] Her fellow Girl Scout mate, Regina Sullivan, remembered one chicken, named ‘Aloysius’ after her uncle Herbert Aloysius Cline, would come to Scout meetings with shorts, a shirt, a jacket, and a bow. Aloysius would walk around with the girls during the sessions, unbothered.[4]

In adulthood, when Flannery moved home to the family farm, she was able to find peace and joy through her birds, reengaging in their little quirks, which made her love them even more. At one point, Flannery was not sure how many birds she even had. The birds typically had free range at Andalusia. Flannery spent much of her time sitting on Andalusia’s back steps, simply watching her birds.

Flannery on the front porch of Andalusia. Andalusia Collection: 2019.1.162.

Flannery often wrote to her friends about what was taking place with her birds. She would describe them and their daily actions, so even when her friends could not be present, they would not miss out on the birds’ activities. In a letter to Sister Julie in December of 1962, Flannery talked about her skittish swan. She said, “The swan has taken up with three Muscovy ducks. They are the only birds around here he’s not scared of. He goes to the pond with them & he acts like a large nursemaid trying to keep up with three lively children.” [5] Plainly seen through her letters is the love Flannery had for her birds. In another letter, she told her friend Katherine Anne Porter that she wished she could see her Chinese geese with their handsome shape and terrible voices.

Why did Flannery have birds? For the same reason, many of us have dogs or cats; she loved them, and something about them brought her a sense of comfort. Flannery once said, “My quest, whatever it was actually for, ended with peacocks. Instinct, not knowledge, led me to them … I intend to stand firm and let the peacocks multiply, for I am sure that, in the end, the last word will be theirs.” [6] While Flannery’s bird’ obsession’ may have started with a backward walking chicken and gradually progressed to different types of birds, and ended with peafowl. She felt instinctively drawn to the beautiful birds, and because of that, she respected them—two things that will always set Flannery O’Connor apart: her phenomenal writing and her love of birds.

Andalusia Collection: 2019.1. 420.

[1]Brad Gooch, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2009).

[2] Ibid., 58.

[3] Ibid.,59.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, ed. Sally Fitzgerald, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988), 231.

[6] Flannery O’Connor, “The King of the Birds,” in Mystery and Manner, ed. Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970), 21.

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