A hen being taken by a predator can make an unmistakable panic sound, a gravelly scream or intense wailing that sounds almost human. I’ve only heard that sound once, when a hen across the street was being taken in the middle of the night. It’s an unforgettable and disturbing sound.
When Lucy made that sound, I was at my desk. I jumped out of the chair before she finished that scream, rounded the corner, and dashed out the back door without thinking of shoes or a jacket. The only sign of Lucy was a pile of feathers.
I yelled, “Lucy! Lucy!” while running toward the coop, as if a shouting human would encourage her to come running to me. She made the sound again, this time from inside the coop. At some point, I started shouting, “Hawk! Hawk!” in the special way the girls have come to understand means to take immediate cover because danger is extremely close above. I realized I had already been shouting that when a red-tailed hawk came flying directly up at me from inside the coop.
Yes, that’s right. The hawk flew directly up at me. The coop door has bird netting that runs down to the doorknobs, so anything that goes in or out must either stoop down or use hands to pull the netting to the side. The hawk flew under the netting and up at me. I made sure to look at its feet to see if it was taking one of the girls. It didn’t appear to have anyone, but it all happened so fast I couldn’t be sure.
It took less than 8 seconds for me to get to the coop and have the hawk fly at me. I’ve timed it while going over it again and again (without screaming, of course); 8 seconds is generous because I don’t want to exaggerate.
The scene inside the coop didn’t look survivable. There were Lucy feathers everywhere, torn out in bunches, still damp where they had been in the skin. There was no blood. That was odd.
I found the girls where they had jumped for cover, except Lucy. Mary and Waffles were flattened on the ground under the oleander bush, just outside the coop door. I’d seen them flying out, squawking in a panic right before the hawk flew out. Miss Hen was in the run, hiding in a corner. Charlotte had flattened herself & squeezed to the size of a 2×4 behind the shop-vac & the unfinished framing of the coop. I would have missed her if she hadn’t had the tips of her black tail feathers against the unpainted board. I carried the girls individually to join Miss Hen in the run and then searched for Lucy.
I looked everywhere for probably an hour, not caring that I’d repeatedly stepped in warm chicken poop while wearing socks. I sobbed while gathering Lucy’s feathers into a bucket. I thought about the nice shoebox by the dryer that I could bury them in. The thought of burying her feathers was terrible at that moment and I decided not to tell anyone she was gone, just to carry around the bucket of feathers and never speak again.
Earlier in the day I looked at Lucy and lovingly said to her, “I love you, Lucy. I need to spend more time with you. You are the last girl from our first flock and I want you to know how much you mean to me.” Then I thought about how I hated the thought of Lucy being eaten, even though we’ve always joked that she would be the first one we’d eat if our world came to that point. Lucy responded by ignoring me, the same as usual.
My husband came home from work early to help search for whatever remained of Lucy. We searched everywhere and still couldn’t find her. I decided she was gone forever and that I would tie a ribbon around the bucket and take it with me on the plane to see my dad in a few days. It was at that moment that Lucy popped out of nowhere, bock-bock-bah-gawking. She was missing a few tail feathers and a lot on her back, but was otherwise unharmed. That is the first miracle I’ve ever witnessed.