I unwrap the black plastic bundle the Bearded One has carefully tied up with twine. I must see the remains of Blackie, one of our 7-month-old banty hens, who was killed while I napped.
The neck and head is a gruesome red skeleton, all of the feathers gone and the flesh chewed or pecked off, but the head is still attached. And the rest of the body is intact. It’s a waste, and I stroke the wings the Bearded One and I carefully clipped 4 months ago in November. They finished growing back out many weeks ago, but Blackie never tried to escape.
I take a picture to email to our neighbor, Momma Goose, for her expert help in guessing the predator responsible — eagle (or other raptor), raccoon, coyote, or weasel. And then I cry as I wrap the body again and put it back in the trash. I am surprisingly sad.
Blackie was the fiercest fighter of the hens, standing up to the roosters Tux and Steve daily before they left for the auction. She was the second hen to go broody, but she snapped out of it with just a couple of cold baths. She was a loudmouth and a good layer. And she was beautiful, with lots of translucent blue mixed in with her black.
“You can’t go running every time a chicken squawks,” says the Bearded One the next morning as I’m counting soup spoons for the big family shindig happening here at the farmlet in an hour.
He’s right, and I really don’t blame myself for her death. There are many hungry critters in the woods. Still, I’m still a bit traumatized, I guess. I plot a quick mental trip through the five stages of grief.
Denial — I’m fine, it’s no big deal that I heard some squawking but chose to continue my nap.
Anger — What horrible, opportunistic, evil critter did this? I will set a trap or otherwise make them pay.
Bargaining — If I go running every time I hear squawking, will there be no more deaths?
Depression — We’re on the radar of some predator now who’s had a taste of blood and all the chickens are doomed.
Acceptance — The party guests will be here in half an hour. Get movin’.
Eleven guests gather in the living room, including my mother and sister and all three of our Twenty-Something kids. They and everyone else listen politely as I tell the story of Blackie’s death. Of the pile of black feathers in the lower pasture, of the blood stain on the ground, the horror of the wound, and of the puzzle of the predator.
“Eagles will generally take their prey off site, and will consume large amounts of a chicken or duck.” I am reading a portion of Momma Goose’s email response to the party. “Raccoons, on the other hand will kill on site or drag the victim close by, consume small amounts and then abandon the remaining carcass. A coyote will leave a hell of a mess behind, feathers everywhere, and sometimes a trail of blood can be followed but rarely will you find a carcass. A weasel will drain your chickens of their blood (like a vampire) and leave behind a virtually intact carcass.”
I finish reading. The room is silent as we all listen to the rain and the wood crackling in the woodstove. I’ve killed the party, I think. Such a downer.
But everyone starts talking, offering versions of the murder and suggestions. Perhaps there were TWO predators, had we thought of that? Maybe the goats scared the predator off and that’s why the body was intact. Someone points out that it’s illegal to harm an eagle. Someone else says cougars are returning to the area, he’s seen it in the newspaper.
Our oldest daughter is sitting on the couch cuddling with her boyfriend. I remember talking with her in November about how chickens can fly and that we were preparing to clip their wings so they could free range safely. Our daughter had just met her boyfriend then — I had offered to clip his wings if she felt it was necessary in order to keep him around. It wasn’t necessary, and he is still around.
In fact, he has an idea. “A scare eagle,” he says, sitting forward with the vision of it. “You know, like a scarecrow, but a big ‘ol fake eagle mounted on the fence!”
Ha! Our daughter laughs so loudly and heartily with such a full-throated cackle, everyone in the room laughs, too.
It’s called the Texas Laugh, and yes, she inherited it from me. The Bearded One says it’s kind of like what you’d get if you shot a donkey on the butt with a BB gun.
Today, though, it’s surely the sound of Blackie the loudmouth chicken getting in the last word.