While growing up in the city I always knew that I had a country soul. Now that I live on a farm in the country, I’m learning new lessons. Several of these lessons, surprisingly, I learned from a chicken that we named Mariah. Seemingly from nowhere, this beautiful young golden-brown game hen, with missing tail feathers, arrived in our orchard this past summer and took refuge in the tall, thick shrubs on the east side of the house. A while later, we noticed that our neighbors who live a quarter mile down the dirt road, had several game hens that resembled Mariah and were also missing tail feathers. While driving past the neighbor’s house one day I witnessed a couple of hens chasing and plucking the tail feathers off a dark brown hen that was running in a large circle to get away.
I assumed that Mariah fled from this flock. Instead of running in a circle to escape her fate, she bee-lined over thirteen hundred feet straight through the orchard until she found us. Once I figured out her plight, it was difficult for me to return her and by this time she had already grown on us. She began following us around, as well as our cat and small dog who feared her more than she feared them. She loved to eat all the strawberries from our patch as soon as they ripened. I did not mind, of course, because she had found her safe place and I enjoyed having her around. After several weeks, her tail feathers had grown back, and she was growing up nicely. A couple of months after her beautiful new feathers arrived, she occupied our large lemon tree that was on the opposite side of the property.
About the same time, we started experiencing problems with raccoons eating the cat food that I put out for the barn cat. They would also rummage through any items left outside and leave muddy paw prints all around the outside of the house. I was thankful that they had not bothered Mariah over the months that she had been with us, but early one morning, not long after the raccoons became active, I noticed cracked eggs on the sidewalk. Nearby there were various shades of brown feathers strewn around in the yard. Upon closer inspection I witnessed lots of raccoon paw prints in the dried egg yolks on the sidewalk. And then I found our beloved Mariah, deceased, and left near the bushes in the front yard.
The next time I decide to keep a stray chicken, I will build her a chicken coop. It was not fair to treat Mariah as a domestic pet and not provide the security that comes with domestication.
Mariah experienced fear, and/or discomfort in her previous environment and like humans she activated her natural defense response by blindly fleeing the danger. She fled, and quickly adapted to her new home. Although her life was short-lived I found her survival instincts to be quite impressive. Sometimes we have to rapidly evaluate situations and rely on our body’s natural defense mechanism and take flight to seek a safe place.
Even though there was no rooster around to fertilize Mariah’s eggs, she was deeply invested in her role as mother. Mariah left the safety of the lemon tree and risked her life to nurture her eggs that would never hatch. While the end result was unfortunate and sad, it was quite powerful to witness the this extreme level of caring and sacrifice.
Raccoons are opportunistic creatures that can run in very large packs. My experience with the automatic cat feeder helped me to realize just how agile these animals can be. They are not just furry and cute, they are relentless and skilled.
Raccoons and all predators will watch and wait until you are most vulnerable, or you have something valuable, before they attack.
Animals are intelligent and they live in the present.
I was deeply saddened and frustrated after the attack, but I knew that I had to make peace with the situation. This was accomplished by recognizing the value in what I learned from Mariah and a pack of raccoons.