The bear was back in town.
By the time we returned from a long weekend in Pennsylvania on July 16, a bear had destroyed a family birdfeeder and had left a big pile of scat less than 10 feet from our front door.
Hoping for sunflower seeds or other easy meals, a sow with two cubs had spent a few weeks in July 2011 hanging around our house. As the local game warden had predicted, they disappeared when baiting for bears began.
Maybe they were back.
That night the bear knocked down the fence around our chicken enclosure and snapped a metal pole off at the ground. Once inside the enclosure, the bear overturned the chicks’ coop, ripped the chicken wire off its bottom, and left with the chicks’ food. In the morning, I found the six 8-week-old chicks huddled together next to their overturned house, looking confused.
My wife and I moved the chicks’ coop — a plastic Playschool toy house that has been refitted with chicken wire over the windows as a nursery — back into the garage. That left our four hens alone in their coop in the yard.
As I sat eating lunch the next day, the hens began their panicked clucking again. Henry, my son, raced past me out onto the deck. “One of the chickens is hurt!” he yelled.
It looked like a hen was flapping around under the coop and banging into the chicken wire. Except it wasn’t a hen; it was a hawk. We ran to the coop; the hawk stopped thrashing around and hung from the chicken wire by dangerous talons, which curved in half circles several inches long. It watched us with piercing orange eyes. It was an immature northern goshawk; a bird-eating hawk with a long black-and-white tail.
Three hens huddled in a corner of the coop, safe from the hawk. The fourth hen frantically ran back and forth in the enclosure while squawking in abject terror. Eventually, she broke through the gate and out into the yard. We found her hiding under a bush, with only her rear end sticking out.
I slowly ducked under the coop with the hawk, which quietly eyed me. I gently wrapped my hands around its wings. It opened its feet and let me pick it up.
Henry took a few photos of me holding the hawk; it was amazingly light. A full-grown goshawk has a wingspan of more than 40 inches, but only weighs about 2 pounds, much less than the hens this immature goshawk was after. I tossed it up into the air, and it flew into the woods and disappeared.
While eating dinner that evening, I heard several crows cawing excitedly in the woods beyond our yard. A few minutes later, the hens began clucking loudly.
I went out onto the deck and looked to where the four hens hid under their coop while looking toward the woods and clucking loudly.
Following their gaze, I realized the bear was sitting in the yard, right where the bird feeder had been, watching me. It was a good-sized bear with luxurious black fur and a sand-colored snout below beady eyes. When my two children came out for a look, it slowly got up and trotted back into the woods.
That night the bear knocked the fence down again. Not finding anything to eat, it ripped a coop door open and took the hens’ food. I was getting tired of repairing the fence every day.
The next day we were away, so we kept the hens closed under their coop and the chicks in the garage. When we got back at 9 p.m., the fence was broken down again, and the wood-framed, wire door under the coop was broken open. The bear, again, had eaten all the hens’ food.
In the dark, maybe even with the bear watching me, I strung Christmas lights along the top of the wire enclosure. The bear has not been back. I don’t know if the lights scared it away or if it got bored with chicken food and moved on.
Through all the excitement our four hens continued to give us two or three eggs a day.