How The Hen House Turns: Chicks In Danger (2)

How the Hen House Turns
Chicks In Danger (2)

A few days after Peeky’s second brood hatched, disaster once again loomed large over the chicken pen. I heard the mother hen suddenly cut loose with her unmistakable S.O.S. call, and I envisioned all five chicks in the drink this time. But when I looked out, I had to laugh at the scene in the chicken pen.

Peeky was flapping madly from the ground to the top of the six-foot fence, up and down, ferociously and futilely launching attack after attack at a cool black predator (nearly her size) sitting on the top railing, his head cocked at an outrageous angle, watching the frantic mother trying to scare him off.

It was a raven, probably enjoying himself, as ravens do. He didn’t condescend to sail off the fence until I was halfway down the hill, running to see what had become of the chicks.

They were nowhere in sight.

I searched the pen, looked in on the nest, then caught sight of them wedged between the feeding trough and the chicken house, a place they had never been before. Apparently they had all been herded there when the raven came to visit. The roof of the trough gave the chicks complete cover from aerial attack, and the space was much too small for a raven to enter.

They came around quite often, the ravens, to drive the worried mother mad with their indifferent teasing, but we never lost a chick to them. Perhaps it was Peeky’s handsome son, Peeper, marching around the pen that gave the ravens pause.

In the months and years that followed, the ravens grew scarce. Only one came by to take our offerings of unwanted mice on the dead stump behind the house, and that raven never approached the chicken pen. One day I saw six or eight crows attacking him on the rim of the canyon, but somehow he held onto his territory in the front yard. Or maybe he learned to time his visits to when the neighbors put out scraps for him.

Wild birds, and I suspect most wild animals, are geniuses at finding sources of food. They have to be, so I wonder if we do them any favors by encouraging them to rely on regular handouts.

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