Outdoors

Ruffled Feathers

Coping with a cooper’s hawk

Attend

What: Audubon Society presents "Seattle's Adaptable Urban Cooper's Hawks"

When: 7 pm Tue., Oct. 24

Where: Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall, 121 Prospect St.

Cost: $5

Info: http://www.whatcommuseum.org

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The mystery started when one of our free-range hens turned up dead behind our garden shed with a small puncture wound on her breast and half her feathers plucked out.

During our previous seven years of urban chicken ranching, the Lady of the House and I have scraped a few savagely mangled Rhode Island Reds off our lawn, but we’d never encountered a carcass so fully intact and relatively unblemished as this one.

“It looks like some sort of tiny surgeon poked a tiny scalpel into her heart and then went OCD on her plumage,” conjectured the Lady of the House as she handed me a jumbo-sized compost bag.

“Could well be,” I nodded, squatting down to scoop up a fistful of quills. “At least with her wings not torn off and her head still attached, we can be fairly certain the culprit wasn’t a raccoon.”
 
“Say,” my lady surmised, peering thoughtfully into the weeds beneath a short stack of corrugated metal roofing panels that had been leaning up against the house since I’d put them there two summers before. “Do you think that something could have hid beneath those panels waiting to ambush our girl?”

“Hmmm,” I pondered, noting the perilous proximity of said poultry carcass to my derelict roofing panels. “Now that you mention it, the midday shadows under there do seem to offer ideal concealment for a little surgeon to hide.”

Although our subsequent examination of the crime scene revealed no more clues to help substantiate our ambush theory, we couldn’t find enough contrary evidence to discount it either.

Short on leads and stumped on the case, Miss Sherlock and I cordoned off the death zone with chicken wire to help secure our precious flock from further depredation and promptly repaired to the kitchen for some restorative Sunday afternoon brunch.

Oddly enough, about half an hour later, the murderer—an urban Cooper’s Hawk—decided to reveal itself in all its crow-sized, accipiter glory. Seated at the butcher block while polishing off my second round of bacon and waffles, I caught the fleeting form of a tawny winged creature glinting through a side window as it swooped boldly and with a determined air of defiance into the bristling, seemingly impenetrable canopy of our neighbor’s trellised rose bush.

By the time we raced onto the back deck, this intrepid, methodically ambitious raptor had advanced all the way to the crown of our garden-shed roof where—perched like some kind of omnipotent weather vane—it seemed to take joy in taunting us.

Then, just as we realized that we needed to protect our flock, it dove off the shed, darted between some bamboo and went gliding across the lawn to alight on our plum tree. From there it went straight to the chicken-coop roof—where I had to menacingly brandish a broom at it to get it to leave.

I chased the hawk to the fence and then to the woodpile until it finally shot across the alley into huge pine tree, where it blurred seamlessly back into shadows until all we could see were needles and cones. As far as we know, it’s still out there.

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