Yes, I know all about the specialness of crows. They’re smart. They’re highly evolved. Yadda yadda yadda. But they also kamikaze dive-bomb me sometimes when I step out the door into :my: yard and they often make an unholy racket.
The CE likes to remind me that the crows were here long before we were, and Polloplayer readers have done their best to correct my crowphobia. But truthfully, I would just as soon count out four-and-twenty blackbirds for a pie than love them up.
I stand corrected; reformed. I have seen the light about blackbirds because thanks to them, my little white bird is still with us.
It was early morning and the CE had let the hens out for their usual walkabout. I’d been up most of the night so I was in zzzzz land. Unbeknownst to either of us, a hawk had showed up for breakfast.
Usually these red-shouldered hawks scream through with their piercing cry, but sometimes they sneak in unannounced. Unlike the red-tailed hawks which soar and then swoop down upon their prey, these smaller raptors will perch on the limbs of our oaks, waiting for an opportunity to strike.
Luna would have been toast but for the crows. They set to caw-caw-cawing like never before and when the CE stepped outside to see what the ruckus was all about, he saw two things: a hawk perched in one of our trees, and a pile of white feathers.
After a fruitless search for the hens, the CE woke me up with the bad news that all six were missing and that Luna was likely gone. Poor little Luna! Silkies are doubly handicapped with a poofy crest that crowds their vision and because they are flightless. Add in the fact that Luna is neon white and you have a hawk’s slam-dunk morning snack.
The CE finally located the other five hens huddled against the wall, frozen like statues after realizing that the hawk was hovering above. But Luna was not with them. The only part of Luna that seemed to be left were a few ounces of her feathers.
This was the third time I’ve seen one of my hens drop feathers under fear of attack. Hope shed a pile of feathers once before ducking under a bed when a stray dog gave pursuit. And Pippa once left a flurry of feathers during a previous hawk visit. Like lizards losing their tails, birds will drop feathers in a last-ditch effort to evade a predator. Known as “fright molt”, the birds instinctively relax the follicle muscles that anchor the feathers and sometimes earn themselves an escape. In that last nano-second, Luna sent up a feather screen and scooted into the brush, leaving the fearsome hawk with nothing but a shimmer of down for his morning meal.
Just when we had resigned ourselves to the likelihood that Luna had been carried off, I heard a rustle in the underbrush, and out she waddled, my little five-toed pom-pom-noodled phoenix rising inexplicably from the ashes!
How happy we were to see her! And how grateful we were to the crows! Had they not sounded the alarm, the story’s ending might not have been a happy one.
Crows and hawks seem to have a complicated relationships. While I have seen crows “mobbing” red-tailed hawks, I’ve read that they will often join forces with red-shouldered hawks in league against owls. But apparently the truce is an uneasy one, because the hawks are known to go after crows’ young.
There are always a few crows lurking in the oak canopy over our chicken yard. In the past I’ve given them the side-eye, not sure of their intentions toward me or the hens. But from now on, I will think of them as resident guardian angels for my little flock and will be tossing a few handfuls of scratch their way in gratitude.