Somewhere in the middle of the night a sound split my sleep. The rattle of sprung chicken wire and claws on wood meant only one thing; the fox. After the crashing of wire there was a few frustrated whines that sounded half dog wuff and half cat meow. I lay awake for a while and listened to the winter night. The sound I expected was silence, the sound I feared was the possibility of chickens being eaten in their sleep. There was only silence.
One of my students brought a fox with him on his journey to school the other day. His own chickens were being menaced. He purchased a fox trap and happened to catch it without bait after the chickens had pottered in and out of it all day, leaving only their scent, enough for a famished fox. Just before arriving to school he released it far from its home, far from the menaced flock.
The cold will be stirring up a hunger in all the creatures on these long nights. The birds strip our feeders daily. If there is a shred of light left by the time I arrive home from work I try, in vain, to identify some of them. I have an identification chart opportunistically left by the window as I am poor at twitching, apart from crows. For some unfathomable reason I know the species of crows, the corvids, and can name them all from a distance. I once felt like a bit of a freak when I met a friend of a friend and I happened to have my nose deep in a book about the fine details and habits of ravens. He was an avid twitcher and mistook me for one of his kind. I didn’t really know how to explain that I didn’t know a sparrow from a finch, unless it was black and had eyes that burn with wild intelligence. Even if a crow did want to visit the bird feeders, then it would be uncharacteristic and futile. If there is a thin fade of light when I arrive home all I usually see is three empty feeders hanging pathetically, stripped bare like fish skeletons after a piranha attack.
If the foxes are driven by the same hunger as the finches and sparrows, or whatever they are, then they have a high fence to vault over. I have also started up the winter habit of locking the chickens into their shed. This is to kill two birds with one stone, a poor choice of words. It is to give them added protection and to keep out the cold night air. This sounds lovely and caring until I reveal that I am only human and love to be lazy. At the weekends I cannot face getting up to let them out before dawn. At the weekends they have an open hatch, a cold night, and the clawings of predators on the fence.