Sunday, August 5, 2007

Ruffled Feathers

Periodically the pullets start flapping and squawking in the night, but the dog doesn't bark. It sounds like the hens when the coyote is after them, but the dog barks at the coyote, a very particular bark that I know means "the coyote is after the hens". And when I grab my headlamp and boots and venture out there, nothing is amiss except sleepy hens on the roost are peering down at a few wild-eyed hens flapping about the yard.

Did they eat something that gave them bad dreams? Is one of them hallucinating (I had an apparently schizophrenic cat once, so I suspect that animals can have similar mental abberations to those that affect people) and upsetting the others with her bizarre behavior? Did one lose her balance and fall off the roost, prompting an episode of "Chicken Little"?

After so many false alarms, I've grown quite laissez-faire about these particular chickens crying "Wolf" or "coyote" or whatever it is they are saying. But tonight they went on and on, and my new housemate, Emily, searched me out to inquire about the kerfluffle. So I dutifully suited up (boots and headlamp) and went out.

The usual suspects were flopping about the chicken house yard, bumbling into one another in the dark. I peeked in the house. Most of the chickens perched on their roost. A few chickens snuggled down in the nest boxes, as usual--a Barred Rock there, an Auracauna here, wait--what chicken has a black and white tail with LENGTHWISE stripes?

Wait again--that isn't feathers!

A skunk was finishing off the eggs in one of the lower nests. He didn't even look up when my light illuminated the nest.

I went off in search of Emily to explain. Maybe she'd like to take the risk of seeing a skunk? I didn't have to look very far...she was coming down the path wielding a broom. "I can fight off stray dogs if I have a big stick!" she boldly proclaimed, brandishing the broom in such manner that brought mind a feminist medieval princess preparing to take on a hapless dragon.

But alas, in the scant minutes prior to our return to the chicken pen, the raider had disappeared. A gap in the board behind the steps to the chicken house loomed large and dark in the glow of the headlamp: a likely point of entry. I'll patch it soon, and search for other opening.

Skunks eating eggs, in my experience, are fairly contented and unlikely to be aggressive or grouchy. Once I even touched fur when gathering eggs in the dark...never have I been so much as threatened by a skunk in the hen house. I'm always respectful when I know they're there, but the years of uneventful experience give me a calm confidence that I'm safe to observe these handsome intruders.

Obviously, Toss has long since learned that skunk + nosy dog = nasty cold-water outdoor bath (because skunked dogs don't go in the house where the warm water is!), hence no barking.

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