The squawking behavior and huddled masses yesterday afternoon. The lack of desire to leave the coop this morning. Squawking and huddled behavior again this afternoon.
Two dead chickens later, the culprit is not old age or disease, but an enterprising hawk.
I say this because the hawk is about 1/3 the size of our chickens. And because the hawk was cornered inside the coop today, yes INSIDE the coop. Which meant it entered through the hatch. And a carcass was on the floor with six extremely upset chickens in various corners. The other 10 were outside.
Our chickens do not have sufficiently distinct calls. Their HAWK! HAWK! KILLING US! HAWK! call is just about the same as their WOW, I LAID AN EGG, COME SEE! call. So we didn't take it too seriously when they started making a ruckus. But we decided to go down and make sure all was well. The Dude was ahead of me and I heard a huge commotion in the coop as I approached and I wondered why he was tossing chickens about. Which is what it sounded like. And when I got to the door, he said there were two chickens dead (turned out to be one) and the hawk was there, cornered under the rungs eyeing The Dude who was keeping his distance.
As per our adventure with the raccoon, The Dude was somewhat unprepared, dressed in jammies and house slippers while I had stopped to put on my farm boots, a down vest, a scarf and work gloves. The Dude promptly relieved me of the last so he could catch or shoo the hawk. I held the coop door open and watched it gently swoop by me and out the partially open barn door as if it did this every day.
The girls were much relieved by our appearance in their run. I saw Gimpy and identified Dick Deadeye on the rungs, so chances are these were young chickens. Dick Deadeye had a run-in with a hawk early in life, leaving one eye useless. She's now survived a minimum of 3 hawk attacks.
We now wait to see if the hawk's pea brain has registered that it can go indoors after the food. And it's now time for me to make sure I visit the chickens in the early afternoon, which seems to be prime hawk hunting time. We like hawks. A lot. Even more than the fox. However, we must protest when a hawk decides that we are providing fresh meat for his/her personal diet. We are not.
The Dude was wondering about how they are tamed, but I suspect it's done when they are chicks freshly hatched. I think he really wanted my gloves to catch the hawk, if only for a moment.
So mystery solved, but not in a light-hearted sort of way. In the debriefing session (still ongoing as we sit in front of the fire), The Dude and I agree that the hawk couldn't actually lift a chicken and fly. So he/she has to kill and eat right there. And it has made us wonder about other deaths, whether in fact they were from natural causes as we had previously surmised. It would be a relief to alter my earlier, gruesome conclusion that my chickens were also little cannibals.
Meanwhile, an image for Walkabout's story is coalescing in my brain.