One of our chickens was killed early this winter, and while some of the details of what happened are clear to us, some of it’s a bit mysterious as well. I’ve been sitting on a draft of this story for literally months. I’ve finally found time to post it.
We have a habit of checking in on our chickens in the late afternoon, dropping a bit of cracked corn into their coop and making sure all is well. Susan and I had just returned from a Doctor appointment for our son Brady last week, and after letting our dog Soolin out I headed back to the coop. As I approached Soolin rushed off barking – she had detected a large raptor in our garden, hunched over the carcass of one of our chickens. This fantastic little scene evolved as Soolin chased the raptor back towards our property line, her barking and snapping and it flapping furiously, trying to gain altitude. Ultimately it escaped, but I commend Soolin for her effort. It reminded me of an old warner brother cartoon.
As to what happened, well, I’m not really sure. As you can see in the second photo, something pulled the screws to the coop door latch out of the coop frame. They’re tiny screws, but still it would require a fair amount of strength to manage this. Plus there were no signs of something grasping or gnawing at the coop or coop wire, something you’d expect to find if a predator was trying to work out how to bust into the coop. Our best guess is it was a bear or racoon. Our neighbor watched a black bear pull down his birdfeeder to get at the birdseed this winter, which lead to our operating theory: a bear showed up and tried to get at the chicken feed pellets, freeing the chickens, one of which was subsequently killed by the raptor. There were large bundles of both black and yellow chicken feathers in piles outside the coop, suggesting some or all of the chickens were outside the coop at some point, and several of the other chickens had wounds.
In terms of fallout, the chickens were traumatized, and would not come down from the loft of their coop for two days. After the second day, I opened the top and chased them out of it, figuring they had to eat so I would force the issue. They pretty quickly returned to their old behaviors, sans their sibling.
If you click on the last photo to enlarge it, you’ll see the raptor perched in the tree in the center background (the far tree) of the photo. He spent the 30 minutes it took me to clean up the coop and repair the busted door circling the yard and doing low passes over the coop, with me occasionally shaking my fist at him. After the chicken carcass was no longer visible to him he settled into the tree in the photo to watch me, and was still there when I headed in.
We did lose another chicken over the winter, but I have no photos of it because I discovered the murder scene in the dark. Our best guess on that one was it was a coyote or fox based on the scat it left behind.
All of this has us concluding we need to build a better coop – the current one isn’t adequate in terms of protection for the birds. I did reinforce the chicken wire and apply a layer of metal cloth to it in response to all this though, and we haven’t lost a bird since then. We’ll see if Susan and I find time to work on another coop before the seasons change again.