Sunday, November 14, 2010

Backyard Predators

Dorothy's recovering rump.

As cities keep expanding throughout the US, wild animals continue to adapt to city life.

A backyard flock of chickens can be a jackpot for these wild predators.  Having encountered no problems with Tacoma's wildlife population for the first 6 months of urban chicken farming, we had assumed that our chicken coop was virtually impenetrable.  We built a sturdy henhouse and covered our chicken run with wire - both for side and top fencing.

Several weeks ago, we discovered that our comfort was misplaced.  Around midnight, we were woken up by the squawking of our hens.  We ran to their coop with a flashlight and saw that three of the four girls were out of their house and huddling against the fence of their run.  We opened up their house via an access panel, and inside was possibly the largest possum I've ever encountered.  It was frozen in the beam of the flashlight, and all we could see around it were black feathers from Dorothy - but Dorothy was nowhere to be found.

We let the remaining 3 hens out of their enclosure, and they all went and hid throughout the yard.  It looked as if the possum had gotten in through the egg boxes by prying the lid open, which was askew.  We took the lid off and scared the possum out, then began searching for Dorothy.  We looked in our yard, in the alley, peeked into our neighbor's yard...but there was no sign of her.

The other three chickens were in panic-mode, so we put them in kennels inside the garage for the night.  We didn't want to put them back in the coop until we had time to clean it out and secure it properly.

Early the next morning, we received a call from our neighbor that one of our hens was sitting next to him on his front porch stoop.  We ran over, and there was poor Dorothy - delirious from fear and lack of sleep.  We picked her up and checked her for wounds, discovering some blood on her rump.  Fortunately, the wound was only superficial.

It looked like the possum had bitten her tail but got only a mouthful of feathers, pulling all of them out.  In the ensuing madness, it looks as if Dorothy flew out of the open egg box and all the way to our neighbors' yard, where she must have wandered around aimlessly until seeing his porch light go on.

We've since enhanced the security of our coop, and Dorothy is doing great - her wound has healed, and, as you can see in the photo, she has some fresh feathers growing in.

This event served as a reminder, though, that we live side-by-side with wild animals that are always on the look-out for an easy meal.  Raccoons, possums, coyotes, and foxes are the biggest danger in Tacoma.  Cats could potentially be a threat, but we've never encountered any problems with them.  There are numerous feral cats that roam our neighborhood, and while we've had the chickens out in our garden scratching and stretching their wings, we've seen the birds chase these cats away.

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