When we first rehomed some ex-bat chickens in 2010, there was no shortage of people telling us that we'd lose them all to foxes. Even living in a fairly suburban area you would expect there to be some foxes in the immediate vicinity. But we saw no signs of them around our garden and no sightings were reported by our neighbours.
Earlier this year however, rumours began that foxes had moved into our street: late night sightings of a family group trotting around local roads, relaxing in the sunshine on a neighbours lawn and the characteristic screaming in the dark of night. So, we weren't too surprised when they finally revealed themselves in our garden, showing a healthy fox interest in our feathery pets.
What came as a surprise was how bold them would be – no skulking around in the shadows for them, waiting for night to fall. No, they turned up, confident as anything, at all times of the day. Usually it would be the chickens who sensed them first, setting off loud squawking calls of warning and panic. Thankfully we have a very secure Eglu coop and run, which when closed up is fox-proof, so although the chickens can have some fresh air and a bit of freedom, but remain safe from physical attack.
The following photos were taken one morning in July, when the chickens loudly announced the presence of an unwelcome intruder in the garden. From an upstairs window, I could at first see nothing, but after a couple of seconds, saw this striking animal amble calmly out from behind the shed and sit down in the veg plot. Call me paranoid, but he/she seemed to look directly at me apparently unaffected by the commotion in the (firmly secured) chicken run only a few metres away. The fox made itself comfortable, posing for photos for upto 10 minutes, before slowly raising to standing and trotting out of sight again.
Since then the (same?) fox has visited numerous times, sometimes during the night where it gets tangled up in the tall nylon fence, which keeps the chickens contained when they are allowed to free range, sometimes during the day when we have witnessed it jumping around on top of the coop and run terrorising the chickens within. It was on the second of these occasions that our little flock was badly affected. Although we know the fox can't get at them, that fact clearly isn't as obvious to a panicked chicken – especially when a snarling fox is leaping around only centimetres away. After chasing the fox away, we brought all 3 chickens inside the house to calm them and remove them from further stress, but it had all become too much for Snowflake who had what I can only guess was a heart attack as she sat in a pet carrier on the kitchen floor. Her companions were left shaken and nervous for a number of days and are only now growing back feathers they lost. I am told that this is a stress response, to simply shed feathers in the advent of an attack as it makes escape from the jaws of a predator possible – the attacker is simply left with a mouthful of feathers but no prey. We continue to allow the remaining two chickens as much freedom as safely possible, while still seeing the evidence of night-time visits of our foxy foe.