The Wretched Mr. Fox

What am I going to do? I now have only two hens and Bryan the rooster left. That wretched fox having taken one hen, decided last Thursday that it was time to try his luck again. I had quickly become complacent about it. Why? He was hardly going to stop at one chook, but I can’t keep my chickens locked up all the time. They must be allowed to free-range some of the time, otherwise what’s the point? They’ll be unhealthy if stuck in their pen, with only dirt to peck around in. They need to eat grass and grubs and insects, and lie in the sun, flicking dust through their feathers to get rid of lice and keep themselves clean. Watching the chickens pecking about in the garden and on the lawn is strangely hypnotic and relaxing. If they’re down the hill locked in their pen I can’t see them or hear them.

I had left to drive my youngest son to soccer training and asked my middle son to lock the chooks up before it got dark. As we were driving I got a text message and asked my youngest son to read it:
A fox got one of the chickens
“Which one?” I asked. “Quick text him back.”
“He says he doesn’t know.”
“Well call him and put it on speaker.”
He said he’d gone down to lock them up, but that they weren’t in the coop yet, so he came back up to the house to have a shower. As he was getting out of the shower he heard a comotion. The chickens were squawking and Maggie was barking. He got dressed and ran down to see the fox carrying off a flapping hen with Maggie close on his heels. The other chooks had scattered and he was trying to find them.
He hung up and I drove my youngest to soccer. On the way back, my phone rang again. It was my other son again, breathless, obviously on the move still trying to sort out what was happening. Having taken one chook, the fox returned, but the other chickens had disappeared. He said the fox stood there and just stared at him for a good 30 seconds before Maggie spotted it again and it took off. He then saw it again carrying the original chicken with Maggie chasing it. It headed up onto the road where it dropped the now headless chicken and disappeared. Dan was trying to find the other chickens and when he looked at the road again the headless chicken was gone. He would keep looking for the other chickens. He hung up.
When I got home the first thing I saw was the rooster and Sylvia, my oldest beautiful silver Wyandotte, now 8 and a half years old, blind in one eye, a survivor of that the attack that had blinded her and also a lung infection which I had diligently treated, feeling slightly foolish for giving so much medical attention to a chicken. Her feathers were askew; both looked shaken.
So those two were still alive.
I went inside and turned on the verandah light then walked outside again. There under the light, squashing one of my pot plants on the small glass table was my gold Wyandotte, Gladys Emmanuel. She was terrified and when I picked her up she tried to peck me. I tucked her gently under my arm and spoke softly to her, saying how it must have been terrifying, but it was ok now. She began to coo back at me, like a little child, as though saying, “Yes, it was very scary.”
So it was Doris who was taken, my gold Wyandotte, with blue/grey edges on her feathers. A couple of years ago she was almost killed trying to protect her chick from a hawk and I found her standing in a corner with her chick, dripping large dark drops of blood, with no strength left to fight me when I picked her up. Meghan the vet stitched her up and the staff had fallen in love with her and her chick which stayed with her, and used to jump up onto her back. Doris was patched up, but the chick was killed two days later by a tiny carpet snake, the only thing that could get into the guinea pig hutch I had put them in. We got the snake out but it was too late. Doris tried to keep feeding her dead chick, dropping bits of food next to it and cooing to it, until I finally removed it and put it out in the bush.

We eventually carried the remaining chooks back down to the pen and they’ve been locked in ever since. I can’t let them out now until this fox is dealt with, but how to catch a fox?

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Predators

My flock is dwindling.
Two weeks ago I heard a commotion from the chickens who were free-ranging down near the water tank behind the house. Maggie and I ran down to investigate. The chickens were all huddled together under the bougainvillea on the concrete tank looking terrified. I counted them; one was missing. I had a bit of a look for her, but knew I wouldn’t find anything. She has vanished without so much as leaving a feather. I believe it was the work of a hawk.
A few weeks ago I was watching the chooks pecking about on the small patch of grass in the garden when they suddenly scattered and took cover under the bushes. Surprised, I stepped off the verandah and looked up. There, slowly circling high above, was a hawk. The chooks wore the same terrified look they now had clustered under the bougainvillea. They refused to come out into the open until it was well and truly getting dark.
So Stephanie, my black Wyandotte, with the black legs that reminded me of the stockinged nuns from my early school years, was gone.

Then on Monday afternoon, about an hour after I’d let Bryan and the girls out I heard an even greater commotion coming from down near the chook pen. I quickly ran down, Maggie running ahead as usual. There was nothing to see, but Maggie was off and through the bush after something. After a quick check I was sure another of the girls had gone missing so I followed her. She came running back but I told her to get after whatever it was. She again ran off through the bush with me running after. I followed her across our property, dodging my way through the lantana bushes and through the barbed-wire fence onto the neighbour’s property. Maggie turned a sharp left to run around the dam, but to the right I heard flapping. I called to her and she turned and ran in the direction of the flapping. I followed her towards a large clump of lantana. She suddenly sped up and I looked up to see a fox hurrying away. It briefly looked back at me before running off, Maggie close behind. It had no chicken, so I concentrated on the clump of lantana and soon spotted gold feathers. Sure enough there was one of my beautiful gold Wyandottes lying on her side, head stretched back at an awkward angle. As I picked her up I was surprised at how much heavier she was dead than alive and as I did so I heard the fox cry out in fear or warning.

The fox having got away, Maggie soon reappeared trotting beside me as I carried my chicken by the feet. This seemed wrong somehow, so I lifted and cradled her body, supporting her floppy head, her eyes closed. She was still warm and I marvelled that something I had seen alive and pecking about in the scraps only an hour before could now be so lifeless.

Our ground is hard clay, so I didn’t bother burying her, but just laid her down in an old tyre that was lying in the bush the other side of the gully next to the house. I stroked her golden feathers and left her for the bush to take her. The next day she was gone. Maggie sniffed where I’d laid her then followed a trail through the fence where she stopped and sniffed again. I followed and found a pile of gold feathers and some grain. As I stood looking at them, a tiny red-headed finch flitted down and picked up one of the feathers. It flew up onto a branch and seemed to be weighing up the feather, deciding if it was suitable for nesting material. It must have been, because the finch then flew off, carrying the feather in its tiny beak.
Maybe the fox came back to claim his prize or something else took care of her. It doesn’t matter much. She’s gone, but at least she’s being of use to someone else.

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