It has been happening several nights a week now. Everybody on the farm - fowl, swine,canine, bovine, human - is sound asleep (except sometimes Sara, our insomniac daughter). Suddenly there is a blood-curdling shriek, a commotion of clucking and honking and quacking, followed by a moment of shocked silence, then restless chicken muttering until dawn. I usually wake up at the shriek with my adrenalin surging, fumble around for glasses and robe, rush downstairs to the door - but too late. The serial chicken killer has struck again. After he finishes his dastardly deed we can usually hear him contentedly hoo-hoo-hooting. In the the morning we find a headless carcass. Yesterday's victim of the great-horned owl was this large barred rock rooster.
According to my Birds of Minnesota Field Guide, the great horned owl is fearless and will even attack porcupines and skunks so he is nicknamed the Flying Tiger. His wing-span is 3 1/2 feet. He is non-hibernating and non-migratory. That means he will be a year-round predator threat on Squash Blossom Farm.
Our dogs have done a great job protecting our chickens from coyotes and raccoons, but we have learned the hard way that the biggest threat to our free-range chickens is from the air in the middle of the night. We have lost at least 20 chickens to this owl in the past month. Next time,we will try to train our chickens from the very beginning to come into the barn at night.
Once when Sara was up late she successfully interrupted the owl's attack on one of our black runner ducks. The duck was seriously injured, but recovered. The next night he attacked one of the turkeys! She was ambitiously large quarry; he abandoned his effort and the turkey hen has also now recovered from her gruesome injuries. But none of the chickens have ever been so lucky.
Our surviving meat chickens will be harvested next week, so the chicken nightmare will end. But I am worried that after they are gone only the geese, turkeys, ducks and Chuck Dickens will be left to tempt the owl. The geese and turkeys are probably now too large for the owl to tackle, but Chuck and the ducks are going to be in serious danger.