Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Fox and the Mockingbird

That sounds like it could be the title from a fable by Aesop, and certainly some of those fables can take a pretty dark turn, so the stories I relate here now would fit right in.

During "the week that was" last week, a couple other sad events happened. You may remember me posting about the crazy mockingbird who built her nest in the butterfly bush just off the front porch. One morning last week I went out to check on the four little mockingbirds (still downy) and found the nest dangling and the chicks gone. It didn't take much imagination to figure out the who of that story. The next day, Jimmy made a comment about how I should keep an eye on JellyBean, who had apparently thrown up a few times. Well, you'd probably throw up too if you had just eaten four baby birds on top of all the regular food you're fed! Sigh. I was really hoping I could keep them protected from him, but it's not surprising that in the end I couldn't.

He looks pretty innocent and is a really sweet fellow. And a killer too.

(Photo by Dan King)

But that's not the end of the carnage here at Willow's Rest. Last Monday I was working on my job search and waiting till closer to the time for Pam to arrive to work her dog so I could go sort sheep. Suddenly the dogs started a barking frenzy in the front yard. They were facing the front corner and I assumed that the neighbor's labs must have wandered through since I didn't actually see anything. Shortly after that, I heard chickens squawking like they do if the dogs run over them while racing around the yard. A few minutes later it was time to go out and sort sheep. I needed to feed the rams, so I walked into the ram paddock and realized why the barking and why the squawking--a grey fox was in the corner of the paddock with a struggling Rhode Island Red hen. I yelled at the fox and ran toward it waving my arms. It looked at me for a second and then went through the fence. I turned to go see about the chicken, which was still alive, when the fox came back and grabbed the chicken again, trying to take it back through the fence with him (the hens don't easily fit through the field fence). I threw a stick at him, and once again he retreated, but I could see that he was watching me from the tall grass on the other side of the fence.

At that point I called Jimmy to see where he was, since it was just after 6 and he and Josh could conceivably have been back from work. I told him the situation and his first response was "Stay away--a fox shouldn't be out in the daylight." I told him that I didn't think the fox was rabid--it probably just had young and was bound and determined to get that hen and take it back home. His next response was, "Shoot it." Okay. I'm a good shot, but I've never hunted, and even I am not foolish enough to think that being a good shot when aiming at a paper target in any way equates with shooting at a living, moving target. Besides, I have this weird dichotomy that goes on in my mind when a predator takes one of my critters: part of me is of course outraged at the death of one of mine (in this case, it's always one of the chickens) but another part of me can't help but think that the predator is just doing what predators do and if I, the human, have my animals out where they might be easy pickings, then can I really blame the predator for doing what comes naturally? And it's that very thought that makes me squeamish about doing something like shooting the fox. Jimmy has no such qualms. Since he was at Josh's place just a few minutes away, he came on home and staked out the dead chicken waiting for the fox to come back for it, and sure enough the fox did just that. Jimmy had warning of his return to the corner fence--the purple martins started circling the fox and setting up a fuss. Did two deaths that day really solve anything? Well, it made me feel really bad for both the hen and the fox, but at the same time, I don't want to keep losing hens, especially not in the near broad daylight. But I also wonder about that fox's mate, whom I heard barking (calling to him?) right before he made the mistake of trying to come back through the fence for the hen. Did they have kits? If so, how is she managing to feed them? Did the one death doom them all to death as well?

If there's a downside to rural living, I think this is it. I raise animals and I feel that it's my duty to protect them in the best way I can. I just hate that protecting them sometimes means a really bad end for some other animal--who is just trying to survive. Oh, and Jimmy did point out where he keeps the shotgun, because really any fool ought to be able to hit something with shot at close range. The question is: Would I really be able to do it?


Kelly said...

When it rains is pours, huh?!?

~~Sittin.n.Spinnin said...

It had to be done. Unfortunately, I think you're right though; you're there, you have chickens, the chickens to them are like KFC to us, ready made meals. Knowing that the chickens were there and he had gotten away with it once, he would have been back until the smorgasbord was cleaned out. Doesnt make it any easier though.

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

I guess we have an up-side to my husband's dislike of "free-range poop." Since our chickens are contained in a secure chicken yard (AND locked in the chicken house at night), I don't have to worry about shooting predators, which I would also have trouble doing. I lock my sheep in at night for the same reason....