A Scream in the Woods

Day 5 of 365

I have a story to tell today! But, before I can tell it, I think I have to give a little context.

In 2019, we had our first hawk attack on our chickens. I was in the house and heard a loud scream from the chicken area, but I didn’t run out there right away. We had 8 young chickens, who were about 9 weeks old, and they had just been out with the “grown ups” for a few days. I watched them closely for the first couple of days to make sure they weren’t picked on too much. They weren’t. We have a pretty peaceful flock. But a couple of them just screamed and screamed at the slightest peck on the head. They had some melodramatic leanings for sure. One was a little rooster, and he was as cute as can be–and such a mama’s baby. When his mama said he had to be grown up at 9 weeks, he took it hard.

Given this situation, I took my time getting out to the chicken area when I heard that scream. When I opened the front door and saw the reason for the scream–a hawk on the back of one of my original Rhode Island Reds, Lucy II, I was devastated. I ran upon the hawk, but I was too late. It was truly one of the most devastating experiences because I could have saved her. I felt like the worst chicken mama in the world, and truly, that day, I was.

I vowed that would never happen again.

And it hasn’t. I am now extremely in tune with every sound, every call, every bit of talking. At the slightest potential sound of distress, I drop everything I am doing and go check. Without fail. Every single time. For nearly 4 years. I’m going to be honest, I don’t know if it’s good for my nerves, but it is what it is.

I have become so adept at figuring out bird calls, I feel part bird. This has been helpful in keeping my chickens safe, but we live in the Maine woods, and in the spring and summer, this means I also hear, with far too much detail, the calls of the birds in our woods. It’s mostly wonderful, but being awoken at 4:00 in the morning because a wild bird is upset about something does get old. And the worst is when I hear a baby distress call. The very worst is when I hear a baby distress call that goes on and on and on and on. I know something must have happened.

That happened last night. I was cooking a very late dinner because Ron was working in the garden until dark and I had some final grades due for a class. As I was cooking, it was starting to get dark outside, and I heard the distress call. I kept hearing it and hearing it and hearing it. It’s heartbreaking.

When Ron came in, I told him about it. And then told him about it some more. I knew there was nothing to be done. I could tell it was in a tree very near our house, but I had no idea what tree, and what would I do anyway? Climb a tree?

Ron got up and shut the windows. “There,” he said. “No more outside noise.”

We finished dinner, and then I got the duck’s peas ready for bedtime. I opened the back door and stepped out to greet the ducks and was also ready to listen carefully to see if I still heard the baby bird distress call.

What I heard instead was a scream that sounded just like a human screaming in terror, and it was coming from right above my head.

I just froze in panic. For a few seconds, my brain had no idea what I had heard. I had this instinct to drop the peas and run, but I also had the instinct to run to my ducks to protect them. I couldn’t move a muscle. And then, about 30 seconds later, I heard “who cooks for you?”

photo credit: Richard Lee, Unsplash

Oh my gosh! That’s a barred owl, I thought to myself, and I could breathe again. Of course, then I realized I had better get the ducks into the house, as that owl was right above us. I watched far too much of a video one time about what an owl does to a duck head. Thankfully, the ducks didn’t play their games too much last night and went into the duck house fairly quickly. As I circled the duck house for a few short rounds of the duck game, I realized I also didn’t hear the baby bird in distress anymore…

It could be a coincidence, but the sounds were definitely from the same area. And, as sad as I am for that baby bird, I know an owl has to eat, and it’s better this way than that poor baby starving to death.

Nature.

When I came inside to tell Ron about it, he didn’t seem to understand the weight of my fear of that first scream. He probably would have known it was an owl immediately. I did not. I hear a lot of owls, but I had never heard that particular scream that close to me before. I’ll bet it was less than 15 feet from me.

My adrenaline must have gotten up so much from the scream that I ended up with a terrible headache, and, of course, felt silly for being so scared. I guess, for about 30 seconds, I thought Stephen King was right and there were terrible things in the Maine woods.

Thankfully, it was just a barred owl, but if you have never heard the scream, you must listen to it here. I found it by Googling “barred owl scream.” And when I searched for it, one result come up “owl that screams like a human.” Here it is below. Listen at 0:07.

If you think it’s terrifying too, please leave a comment because I think Ron thinks I am ridiculous for being so frightened.

***

And I have to give a quick Ruby update. She took a break from her eggs today and didn’t want to go back again. She flew over into the main chicken area and was just having a party with everyone else. I had to run her down in the chicken run after an hour of her party, which made her stress–and everyone stress. I honestly can’t believe I caught her again. She’s so fast! But she ran under a shrub and thought she was hidden from me, so I scooped her up. When I took her back to the eggs to see if she was going to get back on them (I was starting to think I was maybe going to have to give her eggs to Kate, who has also gone broody now), she went straight to them, wiggled her little self on them, and then screamed at me for getting too close when I checked her water. That chicken.

She’s on Day 4 of 21. Sigh.