Unlike the similarly titled Agatha Christie novel…there’s no mystery here, and today’s Fowl Friday post clearly falls into the non-fiction category.
Late Wednesday afternoon, just after 4 PM, I was on the phone, when out of the corner of my eye I saw the side of the electric poultry net fence move, abruptly, as if something slammed into it from the side. Instinctively I leapt out of the chair and ran to the back door in the kitchen, and was slack-jawed to see a Bobcat milling around right in the middle of all our pullets!
He was inside the electric fence! Bobcat. Pullets. Pullets. Bobcat. For a brief second, the scene seemed surreal. The pullets were ricocheting in every direction…while Bob stood in the middle of the flock casually making his selection.
I dropped the phone on the floor, and ran outside. I only had socks on my feet, but went tearing up the hill screaming at the top of my lungs hoping to scare him off. He hadn’t caught anyone yet, maybe…if I…but before I could reach the pullets, Bob lunged toward our largest Delaware, Zilla. He missed the first time, as a cloud of Zilla’s white feathers exploded into the air. He turned on his heels, back toward Zilla, and this time he didn’t miss. He caught Zilla by the throat, right in front of me, and she immediately went limp. There was nothing I could do. He grabbed her with phenomenal ease, picked her up, and ran to the east side of the enclosure, and jumped up over the fence.
He just barely cleared the top, with the weight of Zilla hanging from his jaws. Zilla’s feet got tangled in the fence as he jumped over, and he dropped her as he landed, right at the base of the fence. I could see she wasn’t dead, as a charge from the fence shocked her. As Bob went to grab her and re-secure his grip, he clearly then, finally, discovered the 8000 volts running through the fence, and scurried up the hillside, leaving Zilla gasping for breath on the ground. Bob didn’t go far though.
I pulled Zilla away from the fence, and could see she was almost gone. Determined that she would be the last pullet he’d catch that night, I hurdled the electric fence (which was still fully charged). I didn’t realize I was that agile, clearly adrenaline was working in my favor. Once inside the enclosure, I realized that as a result of the pandemonium I now had pullets both inside and outside the fence.
During the attack, Siegfried was the only one that had made it into the coop, and he just stood there, staring.
Before I could catch even one pullet, Bob charged back down the hill toward Zilla.
Bob was hungry, and determined to carry off his prize. I charged toward Bob, yelling, with my hands frantically waving in the air, but he didn’t stop. I grabbed two large river rocks and threw them toward him to ward him off. (Don’t worry, I didn’t have a prayer of hitting him, my aim isn’t that good). It was enough to make him stop though, for a moment.
The pullets outside the fence were terrified, and trying desperately to get back into the enclosure. Panicked, they were scrambling to push themselves through the electric fence. One by one I caught them, getting zapped repeatedly by the fence charge as I untangled them, and threw them back inside the perimeter so they could get back inside the run, but they all huddled on a rise of dirt in the middle of the enclosure, nowhere near the run door, statue still, clearly frozen with fear. They could still see Bob on the hillside. I still had no shoes on, and needed, in daylight, to convince these girls to ‘coop up’. Easier said than done.
As I was afraid of scaring them further, and scattering them toward Bob, I needed some bribery (and shoes) so I ran toward the house to slip on my boots that were by the back door, and grab a handful of grain from the feed bin. As I dashed back toward the coop, I lobbed another rather sizable rock in Bob’s direction as he’d made it almost all the way back to where Zilla was laying. Again, the rock was just a momentary distraction. I leapt the fence again, threw the grain inside the run, and managed to herd the girls inside.
With the girls now safely locked in the run, I pulled up and dropped a few of the portable fence posts, as I’d jumped more than enough fences for one day, and I charged toward Bob head on. I’d had enough, but he stood his ground, and didn’t even flinch. Then he started back toward me. We’ve had Bobcats here before, many times, but they’ve always taken the path of least resistance. They’ll bluff, but they don’t really want a head-on confrontation. I started running up the slope (which is ridiculously steep by the coop).
As I got closer, realizing I meant business, he finally took off up toward the ridge. With Bob a safe distance away, and the hens secure, I went to check back on Zilla. As much as I hated this had happened to one of our flock, it was much more important to me that she wasn’t laying there suffering. Prepared to finish what Bob had started, I picked her up, and could see her throat was torn open, and that thankfully, for her sake, she was already gone.
An expert predator, Bob is a swift, and efficient killing machine, and for that part at least we’re grateful. I felt like this all happened in slow-motion, it felt like hours, but this all happened in just a few minutes.
At this point it was almost dark, with our dogs hysterical inside the house, I went in to check on them, and take Zilla inside. I picked the phone up off the floor. Not sure if I’d actually hung it up in my frenzied dash out the door, I said “Hello?”…and was surprised to hear “Hello, I’m still here”. “Oh! $%&@ I’m soooo sorry!” My poor mother! Through all of this, she’d been stuck listening to our dogs hysterically barking and whining inside the house while I fended off this Bobcat, but she had no idea what had happened, or where I was. She sat poised on the other end of the phone, just about to dial Mr. Curbstone as I’d been gone so long.
A few minutes later the pullets started hysterically squawking again, so I went back outside. Bob was back…yet again, so this time I grabbed the video camera. It was dusk, so the lighting was poor, which affected the video quality, but if you look very closely (maybe in full view) you can see Zilla’s assailant first in the upper left of the screen, and then toward the middle, as he skulks out of view.
He still didn’t leave though, and was back around the chicken and turkey pens a number of times that evening before he finally moved on.
During one of these return encounters part of me, briefly, felt that rather than waste a perfectly good pullet, perhaps I should just let Bob have Zilla, let him have his meal. As sensible, for a nanosecond, as that seemed to me, my common sense then kicked in, and I realized we really don’t want to reward Bob’s behavior. As much as I’d be willing to let him have her, now she’s dead, if he realizes there’s easy pickin’s at Curbstone Valley, he won’t relent. It’s one thing to catch a chicken, but to dine unabated for free, would risk setting a precedent that we really don’t want to set.
I’m in awe of Bob. I’m also disappointed, and saddened, and feel personally responsible for Zilla’s demise. After fitting her with her lovely red shoes as a chick to help straighten her toes, and being the monster-sized Delaware in our flock that stood out almost from the moment she arrived, I’m honestly rather shocked that she’s gone.
I’m so very sorry that Bob chose her, but also relieved no other pullets were hurt.
That said, we live in Bob’s house, in his living room, it’s NOT the other way around. He’s just being a Bobcat. It’s not Bob’s fault, he’s just trying to provide for himself, and who could blame him? Organic free range chicken? The responsibility of keeping the flock safe is ours. It’s not Bob’s responsibility to leave the flock alone.
Clearly though, our portable electric poultry fence isn’t sufficient, so please, ignore that post if you have aggressive predators. It’s fine for keeping pullets out of the lettuce patch, but clearly, if you have determined and agile predators, it’s not enough. Our predators are fierce, numerous, and determined. This was the largest, and healthiest Bobcat I’ve ever seen here. The ease with which he jumped the fence, with a seven and a half pound Zilla in his jaws was very enlightening, and makes it clear the fence isn’t close to tall enough, and/or charged enough.
We won’t use it again, and now need to seriously rethink how we can have hens on range here, without making it an all-you-can-eat buffet for the Bobcats. Livestock guardian dogs, or Llamas, or Donkeys? Secondary perimeter fences? A drawbridge and a moat? In the meantime, we’re back to having the girls on range, under strict eagle-eyed supervision only.
We know Bob, you’ll be back.
*Note these are not photographs of the Bobcat that attacked Zilla. I captured these images during a close Bobcat encounter a couple of years ago. However, in the midst of the panic to get the pullets secured, it was obviously impossible to even consider grabbing my camera Wednesday night.