r.i.p. Sasha: my encounter with a great horned owl

We had a homestead emergency when a Great Horned Owl got into the chicken run. 

A Great Horned Own in our Chicken Run.
This Great Horned Owl invaded our
extended chicken run, resulting in our first fatality from a predator.

The three older chickens like to roost outside, right under the roof of deer netting, and the owl looks like it made a hole in one corner. It killed one of them, poor Sasha. I think her death was quick because Sasha’s head was right next to her body. 

I discovered the owl and Sasha’s corpse while walking the dog at sunrise, which I do just before driving our nine year old to school. What a day! It was the kid’s first day back after winter break, Sarah was at work, I’d just told our boy I’d be back in five minutes, and then I see this. 

I shooed the dog inside the side door and began the effort of getting the owl out of there. The five newer chickens were huddled in the coop. The two remaining older chickens were hiding under their roosting spot. 

I opened the door to the extended run, gestured, poked the fence with a stick. The owl sat watching me with its huge eyes, head turning as I walked around the outside. Occasionally it would fly up, trying to get out, then back down. 

I even went inside, grabbed both chickens one at a time and threw them into the covered run and locked the door behind them. The owl just watched me.

Next, I began ripping off the deer netting that was the roof of their “backyard.” It was an intense and silent effort, with me not wanting the boy to come out and see what had happened, nor did I want him to get excited, yell suggestions, and perhaps endanger himself or get in the way, as sometimes happens because children can’t control their reactions that well yet.

At last, the owl flew up out of the same hole, though now much wider, that it had entered, then settled itself on a post momentarily before flying magnificently away into the woods behind our house. 

The Great Horned Owl, now free, prepares to fly back into our woods.
The Great Horned Owl, now free, prepares to fly back into our woods.

The remaining girls are now locked into their coop and covered run until Sarah and I can put a stronger roof made out of metal hardware cloth over their extended “back yard.” 

This is our first fatality due to predators. We lost two others due to disease or fatal conditions, like a blocked egg. In a way, we were lucky it was an owl. We’ve heard owls will only kill one bird and are satisfied, unlike critters such as foxes or weevils that might have killed them all. 

Sometimes bad news follows good. We had just gotten our first two little eggs of the year, laid by the new girls, yesterday. Now my first chore of the morning, after dropping the kid off at school, was to deal with poor Sasha’s body. 

Our boy came out, looking for me, just after the owl flew majestically away into our woods, with a wingspan of at least four feet. Appearing at the side door, coat and backpack on, he said cheerfully, “That was a lot longer than five minutes!” On the drive to school, I explained what happened matter-of-factly, that a Great Horned Owl had gotten in the fence and killed Sasha. He seemed to take it in stride. In addition to chickens, he’s experienced the death of pet goldfish, a dog to cancer, his beloved hamster Albert Squirmy Nocats Hamsterdam (no cats allowed in his room!); I guess he’s become somewhat familiar with life and death on a small homestead. So he acknowledged what I said and turned the conversation to his upcoming science fair project. Still, I expect he’ll want to talk about it this evening. Like the rest of us, he feels sad when we lose one of our animals. 

Our son made this tombstone for his beloved hamster, Albert Squirmy Nocats Hamsterdam.
Theo made this tombstone for the grave of his beloved pet hamster, Albert Squirmy Nocats Hamsterdam.

I found myself feeling complicated about the owl and its kill. I am sad for the loss, relieved it wasn’t worse, and in some ways awe-struck: the owl was magnificent and beautiful, especially as it flew away on its powerful and graceful long wings, and I understand how it acted according to its place in nature.

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