This peaceful night was shattered at 4:00 am by a tremendous squawking and howling from the back yard. Some animal was surely dying in the teeth of another. We were witnessing the food chain right here in our own suburban back yard. It took us a few seconds to identify the lower half of this food chain...
I never knew a chicken could howl like that. It was creepy.
I leaped out of bed and ran outside, grabbing a flashlight along the way. Reaching the chicken coop, I pointed the flashlight inside, expecting carnage and some slavering, saber-toothed monster growling at me. Instead, most of the chickens were milling about the roost area, one of them was in a nest box leaping up and down like it was doing jumping jacks. There appeared to be no other animal, just a few very agitated hens.
Shining the light downward to the ground, I spotted a small patch of light gray fur. Opossum. Then the opossum moved into the light a little more and the small patch of light gray fur became a light stripe on a black body. His little beady eyes shone in the light as he looked at me.
Skunk. Just a little one.
I backed away. Even little ones are considered armed and dangerous.
I had very little in my arsenal. I cast about for something to coax the skunk to go away. I soon spotted some ammunition. Pears. I was standing next to one of the pear trees and most of the pears had fallen to the ground, having ripened about a week ago.
From a distance, I started lobbing overripe pears at the skunk. It dug its way under the wall of the coop, since my first pear had hit the door and slammed it shut. Then it ambled slowly to the other side of the fenced area, looking back occasionally, and disappeared. I lobbed a few more pears in the general direction just to make sure.
The chickens had calmed to a point where I could finally take a count. Apparently, flying pears are not as traumatic as a little skunk. 12 legs, divide by two, equals six chickens. All present and accounted for. The skunk must have been after the eggs which no one collected yesterday.
Who needs an alarm clock with such drama in the back yard?