Well, maybe a new predator. I’m remembering last summer when I found the puppies with eviscerated chickens and accused them of killing birds, then found a carcass outside the fence and had to apologize to the dogs. New or old, this predator is pretty spectacular but my guardians are on the job!
It happened on Friday. I was working in the garden when I heard the turkey hens giving their “OMG, we’re all going to die” warning cry. Bear, who long ago learned what that cry meant, was already on the move, racing at full speed. Radha, who had been sound asleep in the sun, was at Bear’s side in one instant, then ahead of him in the next. Rupert, being Rupert, looked at me for direction only to discover I was already running. That’s because I know Bear only runs at full speed when it’s a real threat.
Ahead of me at the back barn, I watched Tom spread his wings. He threw himself at something. Feathers flew. A chicken darted around Tom at the same time that a huge bird left the ground. It went only as far as the lower branches of the nearby walnut tree. Still running, I gaped. In all my life I’d never expected to be so close to a Golden Eagle.
By now, both Radha and Bear were at the back barn. They stopped at the base of the walnut, Bear barking like crazy, Radha standing on her back feet, her front paws against the trunk, her gaze fixed on the massive bird. Meanwhile, having saved his chicken, Tom was making his way slowly and calmly toward the coop’s open door, in which most of the chickens and his hens had taken shelter.
The chickens were clutched close to each other, recounting their terrifying experience in hushed voices. “Lord Almighty! Did you see that monster, Henrietta? I swear I lost half my feathers when it swooped down on Harriet. That poor dear. That poor, poor dear.”
I was certain the chicken the eagle had tried to snatch would be dead or badly injured. She wasn’t, although judging by the pile of feathers she’d left behind, she was a bit bald. Unbelievable! Elderly Tom had saved that hen!
Outside the coop, both Bear and Radha were still doing their utmost to reach that beautiful eagle. Just then, a tiny motion in the big sycamore caught my eye and I watched yet another eagle settle onto one of the upper branches–the mate of the chicken killer. The arrival of his or her mate stirred the killer into movement and it made its way to the massive cottonwood at the back of my property. Both Radha and Bear followed. This convinced both big birds that the chances of a meal were now pretty slim. They both lifted into the air and began to circle the back barn, rising higher with every turn.
First, I herded all the other chickens back into the coop and closed the door for the day. As much as they enjoy free-ranging, now that I’ve turned them into composters, they don’t have to leave to eat interesting and fresh things, and their coop is roomy and airy. By the way, I’ve harvested my first batch of compost and it’s so wonderful that I started two more piles for them.
While in the coop, I congratulated Tom on an astounding feat of derring do. As if he understood what I was saying, he spread his tail feathers in macho pride (something he hasn’t been doing much lately) and gave a “huff.” I gave him another handful of black oil sunflower seeds as a thank you.
After that, both dogs got lots of hugs. Radha was so pleased with herself that I swear she was grinning. So was I. Even as I praised her, her gaze kept straying toward the circling eagles. Later that day, she left off playing with Rupert to settle in the middle pasture, once again scanning the trees for threats. Every day, I watch her grow into the livestock guardian she was born to be. Good girl!
How, you might ask me, am I’m certain that the birds I saw were Golden Eagles? Because I own a Sibley bird guide and my edition has a Golden Eagle on the cover. I’ve always loved that image but now I know it doesn’t begin to do justice to how beautiful (or massive) that bird is. If I needed confirmation, I got it the next day when my neighbor Jacquie, who also owns chickens, called to ask if I’d seen this really big bird hanging around my chickens.
Unfortunately, Tom’s moment of bravado has given him a dangerous boost of courage. He’s never liked Radha, considering her too unpredictable and deadly, which she is, to be allowed near his chicken girls. But until the eagle incident, I think he considered himself too frail to correct her. No more. Ever since then, he’s started dashing at her every time she gets near the coop. At first, Radha was confused by his threatening behavior. Today, she’d had enough. When he came at her, she turned around and barked at him in threat.
I’m interested, but a little afraid, to see how this plays out. One determined and dominant dog meets eagle-busting tom turkey. It’ll be the battle of the century.