Picking up the feathers

This week was one full of tears and hard lessons. After many months of searching for female companions for our peacock Pooky, I finally found a guy who had two beautiful white and blue ones for sale and I was so excited that I jumped into the car the next day and set off on a solo adventure to Gippsland to collect the girls. I’m not a very confident driver, especially in unfamiliar territory, so I was really proud of myself for being brave and for the gorgeous pair of peahen girls that Pooky was sure to be thrilled with.

By the time I got back home, the winter light was fading fast. I didn’t want to traumatise the peahens by putting them in the rear coop, amidst all the ducks and chickens in the dark. The girls were already quite weary and nervous from their long car journey, so Mark and I decided to leave them in the enclosed orchard, which has a mesh 2 m high fence all around it and a net that goes over the top. They would be safe there until morning, when we could move them, we thought.

And then the morning came, and I heard Mark yelling from outside that the peahens were gone. He thought that they had flown out through the top of the net where there was a hole.

I had that familiar horrible sinking, churning feeling in my gut and I headed straight for the fence to inspect it. There it was, the remnants of carnage. Three fox tunnels. A bitten hole in the wire mesh of the fence. Feathers everywhere marking the last struggles of the peahens. I found bits of wings, bone fragments under the lemon trees, and still refused to believe. And it wasn’t until I saw the stomach of one of the peahens, a soft glistening beige mess in the grass, and its small pearl of a scarlet heart nestled within, that I screamed. The towering eucalypts around the forest held their twisted arms up to the sky and I sat on the cold wet grass and felt like a very bad, careless mother.

This was our first fox attack in the five years we have been here, we had previously been so vigilant with the barbed wire, automatic fox-lights and greyhound patrols. Everyone in our neighbourhood hates the foxes. Even animal lovers, or I should say, especially animal lovers. Our builder who lives across the road from us, would later tell me that the day before the foxes killed my peahens, they broke into his chicken coop. He woke up in the morning and went out with his cup of coffee to feed the beautiful brown chickens and saw 14 headless chickens in his coop. Necks snapped, bodies left untouched.

Noone knows why they do this, all the wanton bloodletting. If you lost a chicken or two to a fox trying to feed herself and her starving cubs, you can understand that. But what sense do you make of the stories that come out of our neighbours? Foxes that sit patiently watching while a mother gives birth to a baby lamb during the night, labouring tediously to bring a tender bundle of limbs and hot breath into this world, only to have the foxes eat the face off the baby and leave the maimed thing to die a slow agonising death while the mother bleats through the night.

Who knows what their reasons are.

Lilian told me that mother foxes sometimes bring their cubs to chicken coops to teach them how to kill. Like training for terrorists. Perhaps why I find the foxes most unsettling is for their resemblance to humans. Other neighbours tell me that the foxes just sit on their patio, watching the people in the house through their beady eyes, an unnerving sight for mothers with small children.

Pooky roosts in the tall trees in the forest every night, safe from the foxes, (the peacocks are much better at looking after themselves than the peahens, who lie in their nests on the ground) but he must have watched the slaughter and he went missing for days. We searched everywhere and we couldn’t find him. Normally every morning he comes to the patio and sits patiently waiting for his breakfast. And he comes running, head a-bobbing if he hears me playing the piano. It all sounds very romantic, but actually peacocks like loud noises and I’ve also seen him follow the lawnmower about transfixed.

Anyway, I played all morning for days, looking over my left shoulder, hoping to see his inquisitive little head cocked to one side, bobbing about with the music. But nothing, just an empty armchair.

Finally on the third afternoon, I came back home after lunch, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of cobalt iridescence and a little expectant face looking at me through the window next to the piano.

Pooky was home. And we’re doing our best to make it a safe home for him. More to come on that, but I thought you may like a video I made of Pooky’s homecoming. I’m playing one of his favourite songs – Spectrum, by Zedd.

One thought on “Picking up the feathers

  1. You certainly capture the whole horrible event, Crystal. However it is nature. I love your piano playing. Still remember the first time I heard you play in Singapore. I thought it was a recording!!

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