How the Hen House Turns: Two Bear Attacks

How the Hen House Turns: Two Bear Attacks
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

During late summer 2002, I split the pen surrounding the Hen House in order to provide egg-laying privacy and security for an old red hen named Jupiter. A white Silkie chicken was busy raising the two Polish chicks and one turkey chick who had recently survived two bear attacks.

It was the second summer after the big fire of 2000 that had burned over 400 homes and acres of forest on the periphery of town. The bears were very hungry. One bear ate great chunks from the redwood posts on our front deck and tore several shingles off the garage looking for bugs.

The first night attack was silent and deadly. Not even the dogs heard the bear climb the fence into the Hen House pen. He shredded the nest box of the adoptive Silkie hen and left without one dog bark to announce his presence.

The next morning when I went down the hill to let the birds out of the Hen House and into their pen, I cried out when I saw the heap of sticks. Expecting to see some bloody horror as I pawed through the rubble, I heard a quiet peep. Then another. I sorted carefully through the sticks then and unearthed two chicks and one turkey poult. There was no sign of mother or the second turkey chick. Later we found a few white feathers on the trail into the canyon.

Husband Don, who had raised chickens as a boy, immediately went to work building a bear-proof nest box made of heavy lumber and topped with a heavy tin roof, so tight no bear could get a finger hold to tear it up. Fluffy, another broody Silkie, was delighted to adopt the three babies and they quickly settled into their new nest box.

Two nights later, I was awakened at three in the morning by a thump thumping sound. It could only be the bear, looking for another chicken dinner. I leapt out of bed, grabbed a flashlight and started running down the hill to the chicken pen. The bear looked up, realized there was nothing this little old lady in bare feet could do to ruin his supper plans, and went back to work trying to open the new nest box. More thumping came as he rolled it.

I hollered, “Get out of there, you.”

Luckily the dogs heard me. The two doggie doors, one through a closet, the other through the house, were open as usual. DeeDee and Scooter came charging out the dog doors into the night, barking loud enough to waken husband Don. The bear easily vaulted over the six foot Hen House pen fence and was over our chain link fence before the dogs got down the hill.

I don’t know how I managed with bare feet, but somehow I righted the nest box and checked on its contents. Fluffy and the chicks looked a little woozy from the rolling, but none the worse for it.

The next morning I had a repair job to do on the internal fencing in the pen, for the bear had smashed it to the ground while rolling the sturdy nest box around, trying to open it.

The bear never came back. Bears hate dogs, especially two 55-pound dogs. I do hope he found enough to eat somewhere else.

The turkey poult soon grew into a fine brown animal, with a face only a mother like Fluffy could love and a stance reminiscent of her carnivorous dinosaur ancestry. Luckily she was young enough to bond with Lucy goose, and they are pals to this day, 11 years later.

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