The mystery predator responsible for the massacre on East Hill revealed him/herself to me yesterday. I spent much of my day beefing up the chicken tractors, following a series of attacks which left several chicks dead and/or missing. During routine afternoon chores, I had the wheels on a chicken tractors, moving the “machine” forward onto fresh grass. As usual, a couple of chickens snuck underneath where the pigs before them had dug themselves a big hole. So I stopped pulling, dropped my rope, and headed to the backside of the tractor to retrieve and replace the missing chickens. Out of nowhere, a large bird swiftly swooped in front of me and snatched up a chicken. Wow! What a surprise! It all happened quite fast but for a moment this hawk and I inspected each other at close range. My eyes bugged out of my face, my mouth hung open. I’m stunned at the audacity of this bird! At first I thought it was a barred owl, they’ve roughly the same size and color pattern. Besides everyone here knows that the local barred owls covet those chickens dearly. Brook says they hold owl conventions here at night, and chicken is the focus topic. Still, in the moment I realized what we were dealing with was not an owl but something far more bold and powerful. Our predator hovered at chest height facing me for a moment. The long, pointed wings reached wide and I could hear the wind it made as those wings flapped slowly up and down, all the while keeping the body levitated and I suppose it was thinking about what it ought to do. My poor wayward chicken chirped regretfully. Then I realized, it’s a Paragrine Falcon. Oh crap! The surprise factor wore off for me and I acted to defend. We both hesitated, the paragrine and I didn’t know what I would do. Whack at it? I was within range but with nothing to whack with. It must’ve been my hollering and crazy talking that finally convinced the falcon to drop the chicken and fly away. My poor little chicken was badly torn up between the wings from the talon’s grip. So I brought the bird to the brooder where it could sort out his issues with life and death in peace. I had little hope that it would make it through the night, but it did! Our patient has not touched his food or water that I know of yet, but the fact that he’s still alive is a very good sign of recovery.
Lucy and I are considering our options for defending chicks against this sort of airborne assault. One option put forth by John Bliss is to hang a radio inside the tractor and tune it to Rush Limbaugh. Wildlife would find the thought of eating a Republican chicken so offensive that it would turn away in disgust.