I had a few sad animals deaths on the urban farm recently. First though, let me say that Ellie the miracle chicken is perfectly fine. She’s around eleven years, and still doing great. But my bobwhite quail were getting quite elderly for quail, so it wasn’t a great surprise when my last little female snowflake, Bellatrix, passed on in her sleep.
I’m already planning to hatch more in the spring, because bobwhite are a pure joy to have around. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some more of the snowflake eggs.
Then, a few weeks later, I found Ophelia dead in the chicken run. No sign of sickness, and a postmortem examination turned up nothing obviously wrong, so I think she just died of an age related heart attack or stroke. She was a heavy breed, and not young. She was a wonderful girl, though. Always a visual standout in the flock, and so sweet and willing to hatch anything kind of critter I gave her, even a goose.
Then, the most sad death happened, just last week. One of my bantam cochin hens was missing at bedtime. A search of the chicken yard revealed that she’d been killed and eaten by the merlin hawk that lives in the field behind my property. This hawk primarily feeds on pigeons and other wild small birds, and is too small to take a full-sized chicken. It’s never bothered the banties, either…until now. I think the problem was a combination of its normal hunting ground being torn up by developers (who keep coming tearing up the field and destroying all the habitat and wild bird nests…but then never actually building anything – and they’ve been doing this for YEARS now and it frankly pisses me off) and also because the banties were all molting, and thus looked much smaller than they usually do.
And, of course, out of the three banties, the one killed was my favorite. Millie, who I called “Little Friend” because she followed me around and loved to snuggle on my lap. She was an absolute sweetheart.
I knew the other two banties weren’t going to be safe now that the hawk knew it could take them, so I made arrangements for a friend to take them both…and in the meantime, I put together a covered makeshift run to protect them.
I thought it was safe. It was completely wired in, with a tarp over the top. That hawk, though…. I went out mid-afternoon, and found the big chickens all hiding at the complete opposite end of their yard, as far away from this makeshift run as they could get. And they were looking up and acting jumpy and nervous. I thought they’d just seen the hawk fly over, so I wasn’t too worried, but I went to check on the banties anyway. And found one of the two remaining banties dead. The hawk had waited until she was scratching around close to the wire, then struck her through the wire and killed her. She had a couple of talon marks on her, but because she was still behind the wire, the hawk hadn’t been able to eat her, just pulled a few of her wing feathers out.
Because my friend has only standard-sized chickens, I wasn’t comfortable sending one banty all by herself to integrate with a new flock, so I thought of a different friend who has a flock of just banties. I asked her, and yesterday Keri came and adopted the sole survivor, Mollie, into her own flock. She says she thinks Mollie will end up being the alpha hen, and I believe it. Despite her size, Mollie was always a dominate girl. She had the goose completely terrorized of her!
This whole situation makes me very sad, both because it’s always difficult when animals die of anything other than natural old age – especially when you feel you should have been able to keep them safe, and you didn’t – and also because I really loved having banties in the flock. I loved how adorable they were, how sweet tempered and good at being mommas they were, and also their small eggs. Because it’s just the two of us, I often split recipes in half, and it’s always been an issue when a recipe calls for just one egg. I know you can whip the egg, then split it that way, but it feels like a waste. I discovered that banty eggs were perfectly sized to be “half an egg”, and I loved that.
So now I’m thinking I will get banties again, but they won’t be able to run with the regular flock. I have a section that I could fence off and cover (with smaller hawk-proof wire!) for a run that would be perfect for three little banties. It would also be a secure place for them to raise any chicks, since I’ve long been worried about the potential dangers of letting the mommas and babies run with the regular flock. Not because the other hens would hurt them – they never would – but because of all the various dangers involving water buckets, escaping through fence holes, or predators that can befall such tiny creatures.
I feel bad about my regular hens too, because they don’t understand why the banties were killed, they don’t realize their own size difference in comparison to the Merlin. All they know is they saw two of their own killed, and they are worried they’re going to be next. The morning after I found the first dead banty, two of my girls led me over to the sad little pile of feathers to show me what happened. One of them was Penelope, the dead banty’s particular friend. They both stretched out their necks, peered cautiously at the place where it happened, made the churr churr sound chickens make when they see something bad, then looked up at me. They had such worried, upset faces. Anyone who says birds don’t have feelings and emotions like humans do is absolutely wrong. Hopefully the hawk will move on now the last banty is rehomed, and they won’t keep getting re-traumatized by it flying over.
But to end this on a happier note, since it’s now winter and the outside garden is put to bed for the winter, I have been busy these past couple of months gardening inside. As of right this moment, I have eight tropical fish aquariums in my house, five of them in my bedroom. They range in size from 2.5 gallons to 45 gallons, and they are bringing me such joy. I’ve been following Father Fish on YouTube, along with a score of others, who believe that the way aquariums are commonly set up, with a inch or so of gravel, some plastic plants, and a smattering of chemicals to keep everything alive is a travesty. It’s possible to have a natural aquarium, one with a dirt substrate, real plants, and hardly any human tampering once it’s established and balanced. I love this so much.
Father Fish has a great rant on the subject of how the traditional methods of keeping tropical fish is destroying the hobby, and I agree with him.
I find it really difficult to take nice photos of aquariums, but here’s one that turned out fairly decent. It’s prettier in real life, though!
I absolutely love the idea of capturing a piece of actual nature, and it really is so simple.
O I am so sorry to hear about the spate of deaths. 😢. We had bantams that were free ranging and were taken by a fox. It was devastating. And then when we had quail, I built a tractor with wire on the bottom to place over my garden beds and one morning I found that a rat (?) had dug under and pulled the legs off the quail. They were still alive (to my horror), just amputated. I had to cull them all. It was another lesson learnt. We have only just recently started to ease back into the backyard homesteading after those horror “fails” on our part.
That is so horrifying about your quail…I’m so sorry. Things like that are so very hard.