Unsolved Mysteries: Murder on the Homestead

Something didn’t look right. I stood still and stared, trying to reconcile what I was seeing with what my mind was telling me it meant.

A large swath of feathers was scattered before our tree row on the west side of our driveway. Near enough to the house, just by the garage, the feathers caught my attention but the silence is what unnerved me.

Chickens are noisy. Chatty. They like to tell you all about their day and vocalize their demands. But as I stood in the middle of our driveway, paused on my trek to the chicken coop, I didn’t hear a single cluck.

Slowly, I walked over toward the trees scanning the area looking for anything that might seem out of place. Feathers were everywhere: In front of the trees, under the trees, caught in the bottom of the trees.

I knew what it meant, but I wanted to be wrong.

I walked into the trees and scanned the ground and the limbs looking for more evidence. I found none. No blood. No body parts. No foreign feathers. No wing impressions in the dirt. No paw prints. Nothing.

I was sick to my stomach the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. I only got four eggs that day… four, from nine laying hens. Something absolutely was amiss.

I asked Hubs to do a coop count once they were all in and roosting for the night. He came back with a quizzical look upon his face and said, “It would appear there are only nine chickens…”

“Counting Charles Chickens?” I asked. Charles is our rooster.

“Counting Charles.” Hubs replied.

It was true. There had been a murder on our homestead.

I assume it was a hawk. We have several around, and a Cooper’s Hawk has been a frequent visitor since we moved in nearly six months ago. Of course it could have been a bald eagle. Or a rogue, opportunistic coyote. We’ll never know.

I have a hard time believing a Cooper’s Hawk could carry away a full-grown hen, especially without tearing into it and eating some right there on the spot, though.

Eagle? Maybe. Coyote? Doubtful, but plausible.

The flock was terrorized the rest of the day, and into the next.

Two days later as Little Man and I sat down to our breakfast, we heard a commotion outside. I ran to the window and saw Charles and several chickens hunkered beneath a large pine tree. They seemed fine… I scanned the skyline to see if something was soaring up above. No sign.

Suddenly, a hen darted from another tree into a low-lying evergreen bush, with the talons of a Cooper’s Hawk just missing her back. The hawk landed on a patch of grass beside the bush and I sprinted out the back door in my socked feet.

Across the gravel, down onto the hillside leading to the bush, I hauled my body as fast as I could move. I didn’t get close before the hawk saw me and flew away. I checked on the hen in the bush – she was safe. Charles uttered a growl from beneath the large tree.

And Fredrika the wild turkey, who has defended my hens from aerial predators before, was nowhere to be found.

I bent over, catching my breath and scanned the skyline again. “THIS IS NOT A BUFFET!” I shouted, to no one and nothing.

I walked back to the door, checking my surroundings obsessively. Gravel stuck to the bottoms of my socks. I shook my feet with each step, trying to remove the embedded pebbles from the soles of my feet.

I felt a little defeated. Sure, I had saved that chicken, that day. And yes, we went six months free ranging our birds without a single loss or incident. A close call here or there, but no loss. Until now.

But now there was loss. And that’s a defeating occasion.

So that’s the latest news from the homestead. We have to do chicken math now. (Chicken math is figuring out how many chickens you need, adding extra chickens at a percentage of expected loss, and ending up with more birds than you intended.)

I’m no CSI expert, I’m no master-tracker, but I am a woman who cares about her chickens and takes the loss of one to a predator personally.

I may not solve the mystery of who – or what – made off with a free meal at the expense of my flock, but I will continue to do my best to protect them, to give them the best possible life, and to reap the benefit of their egg production and scratching/tilling behavior.

And I also might start carrying a loaded slingshot. And building a scarecrow. And getting a chicken watchdog.

2 Replies to “Unsolved Mysteries: Murder on the Homestead”

  1. Oh Val! Your blog posts are the highlight of my mornings! I can just picture you bolting out your back door in your stocking feet to protect your chickens. You are my kind of woman! My neighbor’s dog once scaled my chicken fence, and when I saw that I scaled the fence as well and went after the dog! Unfortunately the dog got one of my best laying hens and injured her so badly Dean had to put her down. We lost two chickens to hawks… They are nasty mean birds! That flock is no longer with us… But I have been considering getting chickens again this spring 🙂 Your last paragraph will make me smile all day long… Picturing you with a loaded slingshot! I prefer a loaded .22 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.