The week before Christmas we lost two of the renegade chickens who insisted on sleeping outside in the big tree. I found part of a wing of one and most of the body of the other in the morning. And, the pullet (young hen) who had hatched out the October chicks at only 7 months old had her neck stripped down to the gullet. I wasn't sure if she would make it at all, but I knew that if anyone could it would be her: she's so tough and mean (which is probably what saved her life).
We knew that the culprit had to be either a climber or something winged to get to them perched 30 feet up in the tree in the middle of the night. Once we saw the kind of damage done to the birds, we knew it was a furry critter: a pine-marten, most likely. And, late in the evening of December 29th, Maisy and I heard the guttural hissing outside which further confirmed our suspicions (although we never did see it nor have tracks to ID it with). So, as I went to bed that night, I was wary.
A fowl scream just after midnight brought me out of bed blindly grabbing for pants in the dark. I grabbed the .22 down from its brackets and slammed the magazine in. I shoved my bare feet into boots, and Maisy and I ran outside. Of course, by then the critter was gone, but there were lots of fresh smells for Maisy to explore.
We found the downed chicken - one of the roosters I was going to butcher - in the bushes, but he was fine. No blood nor damage to be seen. He just seemed to be in shock. Me catching him would have furthered his upset, so I let him be and went back inside after a thorough perusal of the chicken yard.
Deep in my sleep during the early morning hours I heard another piercing cry and figured the rooster was gone - but what could I do? Morning's light revealed the rooster to be up and about and able as anything . . . while the body of one of my only two green egg layers lay under a light dusting of snow.
The brain power of chickens had been confirmed to me after those renegades continued to sleep in that same tree after the first two chickens were killed. But, lo and behold, after losing my dark Araucana, they have all (but one stubborn hen) gone inside the coop to roost every single night since. Now, if only they'd start laying again!