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.
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.
Oh my goodness. I am so saddened as I watched the video of the white feathers strewn about. You have such a philosophical view of the incident and Bob’s place in nature and your habitat also.
The beautiful images of Zilla that you showed are a fine tribute to her. What a harrowing experience for you, I am so sorry for your loss and all the stress your other pullets had to endure.
I said on another blog that it was the best post I had read today, but your post on Zilla’s last moments is now one I hope everyone gets to see.
Thank you Donna. I try to keep a realistic perspective here, although sometimes it’s a challenge, and I wonder if I should just stick to raising fruits and vegetables! At least the deer don’t have sharp claws and teeth!
I so admire your measured response, Clare. I think I would have been just as amazed by the Bobcat’s abilities as I were horrified, too. I guess it goes to show that just when you think you’ve got it all figured out… I eagerly await the moat construction, with a chicken manure trebuchet!
Love the idea of the chicken manure trebuchet, you should patent that! 😛
I hated to lose Zilla…but I hate losing in general. Part of me though can’t help but be in awe of how amazing these cats truly are, although next time, I’d like not to be standing quite so close to a kill, unless it’s not one of my flock, AND I have my camera!
Oh, Claire, First I am so sorry about your beloved Zilla. I remember her fondly . . . her red shoes! You did so much for her. Now on the other hand . . . what amazing photographs of Bob!! What a beauty! I remember you saying you had an encounter when visiting my bobcat post. I had no idea you had such beautiful photographs. I do feel for you and all you went through trying to save your chickens. You were right not to give Bob Zilla. Wow! This is a fabulous post. I am just sad that it had to be Zilla’s misfortune to be caught. Good luck with securing the girls and boys.
Thank you Carol. Those are probably my once in a lifetime Bobcat photos. You just don’t get to witness these shy cats hunting very often (well…unless you have chickens it seems). That cat had raided a nest full of three baby blackbirds. In two of those of photos, if you look closely, he has two nestlings in his mouth at once. I couldn’t believe I was seeing it, and that I had my camera. I felt like a documentary photographer seeing that. I felt very bad for the birds, but Bob has to eat.
Wow. I’m so sorry about your hen. =(
I did some reading up on bobcats when we had one visiting (due, no doubt, to our 4 hens). Apparently they are quite successful because they are exceptionally well adapted to doing what they do (kill things of all sizes, including a deer if it’s lying down). I remember once watching a fox jump into our garden over the 7 foot fence, then run up the pole and out like it was nothing.
I, too, have done the “What the..” panic where everything is dropped and you run outside barefoot, socked, whatever. I’ve run in the snow in bare feet to chase off a bobcat, and crossed dry grass in socks faster than I thought possible due to coyotes. Today I chased a cat while wearing slippers.
If I could get dogs, I would. I think they’d do a great job, esp. the right breed. But, then our property wouldn’t be such a nice wildlife sanctuary.
It looks like you gave your hen a GREAT life and that’s the best you can do.
Livestock Guardian Dogs might become a necessity here, especially as we’d like to add goats soon. Our one high prey drive dog that we have no doubt would have tried to see Bob off, but she isn’t much bigger than a male Bobcat herself, and I just didn’t want to risk her getting mauled. We clearly need to consider much bigger dogs!
What a story Clare…Zilla sure was beautiful. And so is Bob.
Oh, Clare. I’m so sorry to hear about Zilla. What a fine line it is between giving the chickens freedom to range and worrying about their safety. That puts you in such a tough position.
Thanks for being strong enough to share your harrowing experience with all of us. I learn so much from your blog. And I look forward to hearing about your new ideas for the future.
Sorry to hear about Zilla, I hope you manage to sort something to keep the rest of the Chickens safe!
Oh no! Though I have to say — that was riveting! I can’t believe he was bold enough to keep coming back like that while you were there, they are usually so shy around humans.
I’m really impressed that you view it as being in his living room with the responsibility all yours. I get so accustomed to people taking wildlife behavior personally, and it’s never seemed very rational to me.
I’m really sorry about Zilla! She was beautiful. Your efforts to rescue her are touching.
They usually are very shy. Behaviorally this cat wasn’t like the others. I’ve chased Bobcats off before, and sometimes just yelling loudly is enough to startle them off, but this guy just would not give up. He was just so fearless, and not in the least bit impressed by, or scared of me! I’m just grateful he wasn’t a mountain lion 😛
Oh my, that is quite a story! I am thankful that we don’t have to deal with predators like that here. I did have coyotes at my last place in the country, and they did make off with the neighbor’s chickens when given a chance.
Hopefully you will find a solution that isn’t too difficult to implement!
Wow, what a story and masterfully written: drama, suspense… holding me from the first paragraph to the end, and I must say a bit upset over beautiful Zilla’s demise.
You are so right Clare, it is Bob’s territory, and rewarding him for his behavior, would only make him return, again and again. Now I must say you are a brave soul chasing after him. I don’t ever want to mess with you! lol
LOL, although if you asked Bob, apparently I’m not really all that scary 😀
Clare, I am just crying about the loss of Zilla! I know you can’t have creatures without loss~but, there lives seem way too short. They give us such joy. I will say that the Bobs of the world are beautiful predators. gail
i am so sorry about Zilla. I know how I would feel. I hope you can find a good solution. Would a trained watch dog be an option?
I think if we go that route, it will need to be a dog that lives with the flock, full time. If that’s the case, we might reconfigure things here a bit. If we added goats, it might make sense to range the goats and chickens together so the guardian dog(s) could protect both. We’ll have to see.
OMG!!!! You had quite an exciting, sad, shocking time of it. I’ve lost chickens to predators..here one minute, gone the next, being attached to them, the whole I can’t believe their gone thing. It’s a rollercoaster ride when it’s going on.
And bless you for your wisdom and understanding of where you live and sharing your insights with everyone about our place as humans and sharing it with the other species that inhabit this planet. My sentiments exactly as hard as it is sometimes.
I’m so sorry to hear about Zilla. I can feel that Zilla means a lot to you. Thankfully, she didn’t have to suffer long. Recently we lost a baby sparrow which we rescued and fed every half hourly. When it finally learn to fly, our dog chased after it an swallowed it up!!!
My condolences on your loss! That is truly an epic tale. It clearly illustrated the awesome power of an animal that must hunt its prey. Beautiful but scary.
Wow! How awful. But Agatha would be proud of the story it produced, I’m certain. Beautiful photos, of bird and Bob both. I hope you come up with a way to keep the ladies safe. RIP, lovely Zilla.
Oh My Goodness, that was terrorifying and exciting all rolled into one story. I’m a sorry poor Zilla. You are one brave chicken protector.
Poor Zilla…Its always heart broken and sad to see our beloved pets go especially in such a horrific way! My sympathy with you..
Well, a truly fowl Friday this time. I was quite worried that the cat would turn on you as I read this (I have numerous friends who went through multiple rounds of antibiotics from run-ins with house cats). So, I’m glad you’re well. As for Siegfried, he seems to be a chicken.
The thought did go through my mind at one point that I could end up having to really fight this cat off me. Maybe because he was up on a slope, above me, he felt ‘bigger’ than me, which made him more bold? I’m not sure, but as Bobcats go, he was a bruiser! And yes, Siegfried is seriously a chicken. In his defense though, he did what he should in regards to going into the coop, it’s just unfortunate that the girls didn’t follow his lead.
I was completely engrossed by your story and kept hoping for a nice ending for Zilla. I’m sorry that she had to go but you are right that it was better for her after what she had gone through. I’m amazed at your bravery and at your pragmatic attitude toward Bob.
Clare, I am so sorry to hear about poor Zilla! I actually got a little choked up reading this. As I’ve mentioned before, my hubby and I are planning on constructing our first chicken coop this winter, but I have my trepidations about potential predators. We, too, have bobcats, along with coyotes and birds of prey, so keeping pets and poultry safe will always be a concern. That’s why I’m hooked on reading your poultry posts because you share so much of your invaluable experiences and wisdom on the trials and tribulations of rural living.
Well, I think I’m wiser now. Our old ways worked best. In the secure run when we can’t supervise the pullets on range. We’ve seen Bobcats climb the run door, but they can’t in. At least we know the run and coop are predator proof, even if the electric pen didn’t work out.
Oh, I am so sorry to hear about Zilla’s loss. You were so courageous to face Bob!
I have only six little hens right now, down from eight a few weeks ago…in our case it was a hawk. I chased the hawk across the road into the woods where he carried my sweet little hen. The chicken was too heavy for the hawk and he dropped it after entering the woods, so I faced him down and picked her up and took her home. She was already gone, too, but I wasn’t going to let him have a free chicken dinner on me! We are so attached to our hens, they all have different personalities, so I know how you feel. I hope you can find a way to deter the wildlife and yet let the chickens be free-range. Always something!
Well, that is life… I love the names you gave to the chicken! Enjoyed reading the post, as always.
I vote moat.
Wow, I’m so sorry that you lost one of your hens in that way 🙁 I’m very glad you weren’t hurt though. Those cats can be powerful, I’m happy you didn’t have to physically fight him off.
Dear Clare, What an experience, my heart was thumping throughout so goodnessknows how you felt through it all. Bobcats really are fiercepredators for your precious flock and one wonders if you can ever make them totally secure. I am sorry about Zilla but pleased that you reassured me about Frodo since he usually seems to come off badly in every Curbstone Tale. Not this time…
Oh, my goodness, Clare. I couldn’t help but get a tear in my eye as I remembered dear, curious Zilla with her cute red shoe. I know you feel the loss most, and I’m sorry for it.
I’m also amazed at your story — and proud of you for keeping all the rest safe while in your socks! If I’d been your mother, I might have been calling the police with all the suddenness of your departure and the dogs making a racket like that. I’ve never seen a bobcat except on t.v., but locals say there are some near here, further up in the foothills of the Appalachians. My first instinct, too, was to give the carcass to the cat — but I see that you are much cleverer than that! I learned some things in this piece that may serve me well when/if we ever have our own hens.
Personally, I like the dog solution. It’s neat, portable, and ’round the clock. Plus, you already like dogs and understand them. 🙂
Dear Clare, Your story had me on the edge of my seat. My first feeling was of abject admiration for your bravery! I know I would have been petrified. Then such sorrow at the loss of dear Zilla. Your compassion for the felon is admirable. Pam x
Poor Zilla. 🙁
What an amazing well written and riveting account. I agree with you that Bob is just doing what comes naturally, but it is sad to have lost Zilla, especially after all the care you gave her. Thank goodness the attack didn’t happen when you weren’t around! It could have been much worse.
Oh my goodness, I’m just catching up here – You showed a lot of bravery and I am just so mad a Bob – yes it’s his livingroom, but I would consider getting a .22 rifle to help protect your investment there. Seriously. You should have one anyway in the event of a sick skunk turning up. I am so sad for Zilla and for your loss of a very special bird. I would go ahead and arm yourselves, really. At one time I would have been horrified at such advice, but out here where we live now that is what’s done to stop predation and it actually works. That and building huge immovable Fort Knox-like enclosures which may not be do-able. I wish you all the very best – gosh that was a gripping narrative, you write so, so well – so glad you are OK.
What an exciting, though sad, story. I had a moment of doubt reading about you charging at a bobcat (what’s she doing!) but so glad he turned and left. It’s great to hear you say that Bob is not to blame here. It’s tough living with wildlife but something we need to accept as civilization encroaches on their territory.
Clare, what a story! It is a story for us, but for you, it was a dangerous event. I am glad you are safe. Sorry about Zilla. How ironic is that he chose her! She was a beautiful creature, but he is also such a beautiful animal! And what happened is life. We went to the wildlife park yesterday and had a chance to watch a bobcat. The kids and adults were amazed how high they can jump! Be safe, take care.
Oh NO! I’m so sorry. We also had a Bobcat in our yard last week. My cat was stalking the Bob! When I read your post on the electric fence I wondered if it would be effective keeping the predators out. I have my chickens fully enclosed for protection. It’s actually a chicken tractor so I can move it around and let them range, but still keep them safe. The neighbor saw the Bob on top of the tractor, but it still keeps them safe.
I’m not sure that I would have had as much mercy on that Bobcat seeing him drag one of my chickens off. I do keep a BB gun next to the door. It’s an air gun so I can control how fast the BB comes out of the gun. I keep it on very low pressure (I don’t want to kill anything). It has been effective in getting coyotes attn without harming them. I’m sure it would do the same for the Bobcat and you wouldn’t have to get as close to him next time.
brilliant writing…over here in england we have foxes and badgers to contend with but no bobcats…but as you say, we do live in their dining room…sorry for your Zilla though..
Good heavens – I had a rush of adreneline reading your post – and I wasn’t even involved in the action. Poor Zilla. Your pictures were a touching tribute. I like your philosophical approach but it must be very upsetting to lose such a character.
So sorry to hear about Zilla.
It must have been quite a rush to be under attack. I hope you find a good way to protect your hens.
Those are really good photos of the bobcat, by the way.
Oh what a tale you tell! I’m saddened for your loss and admire your compassionate view toward that nasty old bobcat. I’m so sorry you lost your beloved Zilla.
Oh, My! That is so very, very sad! She was a beautiful pullet. :`(
I am so sorry for the loss of your sweet Zilla. Intrigued too that Siegfried, alone of the brood, knew to go to safety. Or did he somehow communicate to the others to stay where they were and sacrifice themselves, knowing the bobcat would leave some alone. That would assure species survival in the wild, for a time anyway, wouldn’t it? The sperm bearer and a few of the egg layers remain to propogate while others sacrifice?
I especially appreciate your understanding that it is we humans who encroach on the territory and feeding grounds of the wild things, not the other way around.
Wonderful images, as always. Your prowess with the camera is amazing.
I can only echo other comments – drama – tragedy – life – sorrow – and so well written! We have pretty much decided not to keep any barnyard type animals – I worry about our dog Duncan as it is – I think he’s as tall as but not as hefty as a bobcat. We haven’t seen one for quite a long time – a year maybe. They are beautiful, but remind us that life is rough out here.
I’d worry about little Duncan too. I didn’t let our young dog out, even though she clearly wanted to tango with Bob. She’s not much bigger than Duncan, and I just couldn’t envision that encounter going well. We’re certainly going to have to seriously consider the type of enclosure we’d need if we add goats to the farm though. It is a challenge up here.
I’m so sorry to hear about Zilla. We have a favorite too and I’d be really sad to see her go.
This may sound a little crazy but I met a woman at the EcoFarm conference last year who was successfully keeping Emus in the Sierras. They guarded the flock from anything that might be interested. They’re fiercely protective and apparently, they’re also lovely pets.
Doesn’t sound crazy at all. I’d forgotten about Emus as livestock guardians. I have a friend that has one, and I’ve heard they kick…hard! Good idea Nicole 🙂
Oh Clare, sorry to hear about Zilla. I take your point about accepting that you are in Bob’s living room, but I’m sure that doesn’t make it any easier. Hopefully Bob will at least remember what a fierce opponent you are and how lithely you can leap electric fences!
Sadly Bob has been back a few times this week…so he clearly doesn’t consider me much of an opponent at all! Everyone has been penned up this week though, so all Bob could do was look, and drool, and leave disappointed 😛
Dear Clare – your narrative of nature red in tooth and claw had me on the edge of my seat. Looking back at all the lovely portraits of Zilla makes for a very sad story although as you clearheadedly pronounce the beautiful cat cannot be regarded as the villain. How did Bob get through the fence – was he wearing rubber boots?
You’d think he had rubber boots on. I didn’t see him enter the pen, so I wondered if somehow he’d scooted under the fence. Once he caught Zilla though, I watched him do a standing jump with a 7+ pound chicken in his mouth. I’ve seen Bobcats jump before, I just didn’t expect they could easily clear a 4-foot fence. Now I know 🙁
The boys and I are sad to hear about Zilla. She had a good life.
RIP Zilla! so sorry about Zilla. This was an amazing post with amazing photos. a nice tribute.