I stated my Tuesday sure that the biggest challenge I was going to have; was going to be not eating the pie I made the day before. As usual, my assumptions were spectacularly wrong.
The baby refused to go down for her morning nap till around 11am. As soon as her little peepers were closed, I set out to bring the chickens the bountiful kitchen scraps from last night’s meal. I was greeted at the entrance to the greenhouse with a gory sight that did not bode well for my feathered friends. My heart dropped. At the base of the fence across the entrance I found blood and feathers, from at least two different birds.
I pulled the fence off, lifted the tarp and saw yet more carnage, part of a head. It was going to be one of “those days.” Once inside the greenhouse, I was hearted to see my rooster and a number of chickens alive, I set down my scraps and they dutifully picked at them. In the back corner there was the body that matched the head at the entrance. One of my oldest silver lace chickens, sans head.
I proceeded into the shed at the back of our enclosed area and it was like the aftermath of Jonestown. Five other bodies littered the floor of the shed. I saw that Clementine was among the dead, a very sad thing indeed. Farther into the shed I noticed that there was someone still roosting in the very top of the roof. I raised my head ready to congratulate the bird on it’s plan to stay off the ground- still sure that it was a terrestrial predator that had visited us the night before.
It was a Barred Owl.
It looked down at me with huge dark eyes and was shocked into stillness. Realizing that the owl was the only thing living in the coop I grabbed the small plastic kiddie pool, dumped out the water and shoved it into the door, blocking the entrance to the shed.
I turned back to the remaining seven chickens. All of us not knowing what to make of all of it. The rooster is old and has seen many of his flock taken by many different assailants but this was new for both of us. It must have been confusing to have something so close to your own form perpetrate such a massacre. He looked back at me as if to say “yah, I don’t know. That new chick is kind of an a$$hole!”
The shock wore off and it dawned on me that I had a bit of a predicament on my hands. The baby added a whole new aspect to my usual homestead crisis management protocol.
First things first, check the baby. Still sleeping.
Great. Secure the survivors. I emptied the two large trash cans we use for feed storage and started rounding up the survivors. A few made it difficult, but after a few minutes I had them in. Of the four coops we have on the property, the shed (now occupied by a feathered dragon) is the only one in working order. Most of the property is covered by 4 feet of snow and the other two coops doors were stuck open, encased in 4 inches of ice at their base.
Not a viable option.
The tall coop from last year lacks a door due to damage with winter from the wind. Ok, so inside the house I guess???
Check the baby again. I now hoped that her delayed nap would be a long one; and I carried the two containers, laden with fowl, down to the basement where they could stay calm and cool.
Good. Live things extracted. But they can’t live in those cans for long and the only place I can secure for the immediate future is the shed, you know, the one with the blood covered owl in it.
Ok, I assumed that come night fall the owl will leave to go hunt…
Not if it has a feast at its feet. There is nothing stopping her from going full Smaug on us. Alright, I guess the bodies have to be removed. I moved the makeshift blockade from the door and looked in, Smaug looked back. “Hey buddy.” I said “you are very pretty but you can’t live here.” She blinked back at me. I grabbed the carcass closest to me, dragged it out and got little reaction from the raptor.
Talking to her constantly as I went about my work, I ventured further and further into the shed. I reassured her that I was not going to hurt her but these where technically MY chickens still. Besides, there is no possible way a 3lb owl was going to eat the 30lbs of chickens it had dispatched. Most of the kills were clean and unconsumed. It watched as I worked, not really bothered by me in that enclosed space. I could almost hear her in my head “oh, wonderful this place comes with a maid service. Yes, just put them in a pile- I will deal with them later. I’m sorry I don’t have any cash for a tip, but you know- no pockets.”
We regarded each other calmly. With the bodies outside I reasoned that if I go bang on the shed this thing will take off. Right?! Out I went, got a shovel and swung hard at back wall and roof. I looked through the quarter sized ventilation holes in the side and a big black eye looked back.
She hadn’t budged.
I grabbed a bean pole and poked it through the hole beneath my peephole. The eye looked back, jostled a bit with my prodding but did little more than move to a different perch. I carried on chasing it from one perch to the other around and around we went but she was unwilling to fly out through the opening. This made a little sense since the top half of the shed door was blocked with a big piece of metal so that she would have to fly down, then out.
Fine, manual extraction it is. I gave her sometime to calm down and checked on the baby again. Still asleep! At least something was going my way.
I approached the coop with a old push broom in hand. I greeted my friend at the door and saw that she seemed content in her new digs. Picking up our conversation where we left off, I reiterated that she could not stay. That her place was out in the trees, not here in the land of chicken shit. She blinked assuringly “I think I’ll manage.”
I learned from my hawk fun a couple years ago that almost all perching birds will step up onto an object if you bring it right above their feet and gently push back and up. They have to- or they will fall. The owl was no exception and I easily got her on the broom. I waited for her to settle and slowing started to lower the broom and move it toward the door, halfway there she looked up and silently flew to the top bar. I got her again and she switched directions and flew to the back of the coop.
We danced this way for a few minutes. Me telling her; that she needed to go back to the woods and her showing me, that this was not in fact accurate. We were both calm and sure in our movements but at a stalemate. I left to check the baby, who was very obliging in her continued slumber. Mommy went back to dealing with the f*cking harbinger of death trying to colonize the only space I had to secure the chickens for the remainder of the winter.
I realized I was going to have to unscrew the metal sheet. If that didn’t do it; then, I guess we name it? I entered the coop telling her that things were about to get noisy.
“And” she blinked back.
I went to work. She supervised.
Once the sheet was removed there was blue sky right in front of her and I assumed that this would invoke an immediate exit. WRONG AGAIN. Just more blinking. Fine. I took pictures.
I was only a couple feet away and she could not care less. What an amazing creature. Even with the blood of my favorite chicken painting her chest, she was a beauty to behold and so I did.
We talked a little more.
I have been blessed with many moments like this in my life. I spend a lot of time out alone in the wild and encounters with such amazing beings always make me feel privileged to be alive. I assured her once more; that she was a regal and beautiful force but she had to go, I needed to get those chickens out of the basement and work on making the shed dragon proof.
I got her on the broom one last time and only had to move it a foot before she sailed out and across the yard. Landing on a tree to continue her supervision of my work. I thanked her for killing my chickens and started to gather the materials I would need to block off the opening to the shed. The greenhouse could no longer be trusted as a secure barrier.
I moved quick, sure that the baby HAD to be awake by now, and not happy about her crib imprisonment. I moved the fence that had been (not) securing the front of the greenhouse to inside the shed from floor to ceiling. I replaced the metal sheet on the top half of the door and left the bottom so that I could push it aside and crawl under.
It seems this configuration works; the reason I was able to write this post is because I woke up at 4am, saw the tarp across the entrance to the greenhouse pulled down at the peak and found the owl inside, but unable to enter the shed. I pulled the tarp all the way down and told her she didn’t have to go home but she couldn’t stay here. She flew past me and asked for less fencing on her dinner next time. The chickens though safe, were stressed as she had probably been trying to get at them most of the night. Chickens have no night vision so this must be like the worst boogieman ever! My poor rooster had his neck feathers out; looking back and forth franticly, but unable to see or really do anything about what was happening to him and his girls.
Well there you have it. I can now add owl to the list of things that have killed our chickens. This winter had been a good one for the flock but I should have known that would not last. Especially as spring starts to wake everyone up. Before we moved, I never understood “spring fever” now, 10 winters in- I get it.
I think we have to name her anyway as it seems she is going to be sticking around. This is going to be interesting, but that’s par for the course for the wicked rural homestead.