I am sad to report that we lost two good hens in the last two days. First, Maybell the Black Java pullet was not with the other birds when they came to the coops at dusk. We went looking and found a few piles of feathers in the field, and the last one had fresh droppings that we carefully gathered (without touching--animal scat can carry all kinds of nasty bacteria, larvae, and viruses) and researched online. Gray fox. The next night, we didn't get outside quite fast enough, and I found Gypsy's five babies in the coop alone. We looked around, and there in the field were two young foxes--teenagers, really--with her crumpled body, trying valiantly to drag her off.
These foxes are the offspring of the magic fox, as I called her, from last year. She wasn't afraid of me, and didn't make a move on my chickens, despite me having baby chicks that regularly frequented the field where she hunted fireflies. Come to think of it, it was almost exactly a year ago, and Gypsy was one of those chicks. The fox mother got within just a few feet of me and let me talk to her. She was really quite amazing, and I felt truly blessed to have a nightly encounter with her over the course of almost a whole month. Her children, however, are very normal foxes. They are super skittish--running away when we get within 100-200 feet of them, whereas their mother was often within 6 feet of me while I talked directly to her. And they, unlike her, are definitely interested in eating my chickens. This is their mother, last year (notice the sounds of chicks in the background--I am standing in the chicken yard).
What a great loss. Gypsy laid an amazingly large, deep brown, speckled egg, and she was a good broody, even if she did lose a couple babies her first time brooding. And she and Maybell were both purebred birds, and they made money for me with their eggs. But losing the mama for five babies was even worse. At four weeks of age, they aren't fully feathered out yet, and still need to be kept warm at night. Their sad little peeps as they looked for her all day today were really hard to hear. Worse, they lack the instinct to stay away from the shady creekbed where the foxes grabbed the two hens, and they are small enough to slip through the fence I closed off so that none of the bigger birds can go back there as they have all been accustomed to doing on a daily basis.
So all day I was on pins and needles wondering if they would be predated as well, and was unable to catch them all in the thicket of briars and vines that line the creekbed. What a stressful day! With my husband's help we did get them all back into the coop at dusk, and no birds were lost today--a goal I was not sure I would be able to achieve after losing two birds in two days! Still, I was happy to get a message from a friend tonight that she will take all five babies tomorrow. Five less things to try to keep alive! And with Minerva, who raised Gypsy, setting broody on a clutch of eggs, I'll have plenty to do without having five orphans on my hands.