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April 21, 2011

A Close Call

We feel blessed to live in a place surrounded by wildlife, and usually we're nothing but casual observers to the daily struggle for survival.

When we made the decision to start free ranging our chickens (they were going a little stir crazy spending the long, rainy winter cooped up in their roomy "compound"), we knew we were trading relative security for the possibility of losing a few to marauding carnivores.

Since we'd gone almost an entire year with almost no trouble, I think we (both us and the birds) had gotten a bit blase about the whole predator thing, but that changed abruptly last Thursday during a late spring snow storm. The first indication that something was wrong was when the kids and I found ourselves face to face with an eagle mid-dive (my son swears it was only 3 feet) in front of the living room window. We ran outside yelling and screaming, and quickly did a head count. At first everyone seemed to be okay, but then we noticed that Pippin, one of our dark Brahma hens (pictured midway through this post), was just standing in place, not moving, while everyone else was running around in a tizzy. As I got closer, I could see that she had blood on one side of her head, and what appeared to be puncture wounds just behind her eye and down the side of her neck. I quickly scooped her into a cat carrier and brought her in next to the fire to die peacefully (or so I thought), while the kids extracted the other chickens from their hiding spots.

Princess keeping an eye on things.

She didn't appear to be suffering, and was fading fast, so I decided to spare her (and myself) the trauma of having me dispatch her. Pardon me while I anthropomorphise for a minute, but I'm almost certain that my chickies consider me their mom, and since Pippin noticeably calmed down whenever I spoke to her, I would have hated for the last thing she saw to be me finishing her off.

About an hour after bringing her in, I noticed that she was slowly becoming more alert as the shock wore off, and before too long, she stood up and started eating!


I got out my trusty poultry first aid kit, and optimistically doctored her wounds, still expecting that she would most likely expire in the night. Not only did she not die, but she laid an egg the following day, and is still kicking a week later! Yesterday she had a visit with her pals (who are back to free ranging, but are much more savvy about staying hidden), and is back to scratching and preening like a normal hen. One of her eyes still doesn't open fully, and her head looks somewhat wonky, but I'm hopeful that she'll be back to normal before too long. It would be somewhat fitting if this hen ends up surviving a run in with an eagle, as I have always thought my Brahmas looked like little eagles themselves.

We're not exactly sure why the eagle didn't succeed in taking her. She's a large bird, so it's possible that she was too heavy for him to grab quickly, but we also found some black feathers that aren't hers mixed in with the ones scattered about at the scene, so we're thinking our rooster might have gotten involved and kicked the eagle's proverbial ass. The gutsy thing came back again the following day, swooping down into the run in a second attempt (the run was open, as the winter's snow collapsed the netting a couple of months ago - this has since been replaced), but they'd all run inside before he was able grab one.

One of our other hens suffered a prolapsed oviduct as a result of the scare (the same thing happened after we were visited by the bear last year), so it's been a regular General Hospital around here.

Thankfully, a pair of crows seem to have moved into the area, so I've been plying them with bread in an attempt to get them to stick around. Crows are a predatory bird's greatest annoyance, so I'm hoping they'll set up shop and work as a first line of defense against future aerial attacks.

I'll keep you posted.

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