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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Gotta love 'em


After we brought home our fifteenth, and for the time being, final, truckload of firewood, I lay down and took a nap.

About twenty minutes later, I awoke with a sense of foreboding. Stepping out onto the front porch, I looked around and saw that all the poultry, except for two chickens, had gone into the barn, which is unusual for a sunny afternoon.

Beyond the barn, in a tall cottonwood, sat the largest hawk I'd ever seen. My first thought was that it might be a golden eagle. The raptor was clearly agitated, and flexing its wings and tail, and its war bonnet of red tail feathers glistened in the sun.

We get lots of red-shouldered hawks here, who like to sit in the cottonwood and watch the barnyard antics the way our cat watches the bird feeder: food porn. But none of them has ever dived on the flock; they're smallish to try to make a meal of a full-grown hen, especially with Andrew, Chanticleer and Sylvester on guard, all of whom take their duties seriously, however ineffective they might be in the face of a determined assault. This red-tail was much bigger than the red-shouldered voyeurs. In a class unto itself.

I looked again at the two hens, and saw that one was down, and very still, and the other was keening over her in a voice of mixed bereavement and vicarious carnivorous interest. Her attention seemed to be divided between urging her erstwhile companion to her feet and nibbling at her brisket -- chickens are an immensely practical lot, and I sometimes think watching them gives one much insight into the mindset of the Far Right.

My own mind at that moment was on the discouraging of Very Large Hawks, so I went and fetched the .22 and sent an ineffectual bead of brass-jacketed lead whistling after the marauder, who was already departing anyway.

I collected the deceased, who had only been gnawed about the neck and head, and didn't yet have rigor mortis. She'd be suitable for crock-pot reduction.

Her friends, emboldened by my appearance on the scene, came forth from the barn and sampled the scattered neck feathers with obvious relish, cracking the stems for whatever was still fresh inside. Ish, thought I -- but their ideas on salvage were similar to mine, I realized. Mustn't throw stones at their menu choices.

Juncos and golden-crowned sparrows darted down to join them.

The ducks and geese stayed put. "Whatever you all are doing out there is None Of Our Business," they seemed to be saying.

We had hoped the narrowness of their pasture and the height of the deer fences made a sufficiently difficult and deterrent flyway for hawks, and indeed this was the only known attack from the air in our twenty-five years of poultry raising, right here in Hawk Central. But apparently the long cold snap we're having has raised the stakes. The Rhode Island Red, possibly too heavy to carry away even for this enormous red-tail, had been struck right by the spruce tree in a quite constricted space. Hmm.

I collected all the spare wire on the premises and, like Arachne, spun my web everywhere, from the barn to the deer fence and back from the deer fence to the garden fence, covering open air, at about seven feet of the ground and intervals of six to ten feet, as far as the supply would take me. On wires near enough to the barn and low enough to cause us any personal inconvenience, I hung orange flagging to warn us off self-decapitation.

Two days later, I thought I saw, out of the corner of my eye, SuperHawk lollygagging along the road at about a hundred and fifty feet in the air, from the vicinity of the neighbor's sheep enclosure toward the river. Yeek, but that is a big bird.

I checked on the poultry.

All the hens had gone under the low spruce branches and made themselves into a tableau of frozen chicken. Chanticleer had moved into the open and adopted, bless his heart, a posture of defiance. The Khaki Campbells and Susannah had done the same as the hens, and Sylvester, the White African gander, had taken up a self-assertive posture at the other approach. I looked into the other pen. Andrew, the lone male Ancona drake, had herded the Annies into a corner of their pasture, and stood guard over them, alert, calm, and resigned to whatever might be his fate.

Guys. Gotta love 'em.

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