We lost a Muscovy duck the other night, sometime in the wee hours. For some reason, some of our ducks think that sleeping under the shed is best, and once they get under there, they go way back under and you can't really get them out. That evening three of them (the previously mentioned "delinquents") got themselves under there before we could get everyone herded into the poultry yard for the night. They'd slept under there before, these three, so we didn't think much of it.
Well, sometime around 3:30am Jake started barking his warning bark. I must have been in the middle of REM sleep or something, because when I woke up I had a minute of sleep amnesia - you know - "Where am I?" "What time is it?" "What's that noise?" So it took me a couple minutes to actually get downstairs. The skies were clear, but there was no moon, and it was really dark. I looked and listened out the back door and the front door, but couldn't hear anything. I have to admit, I don't always take Jake's barking seriously because so many times he will bark at nothing, or what seems like nothing. Or, one of us will inadvertently knock against something, or set an object down with a small *thud*, and even if Jake is right there in the room, he will jump up and bark and run towards the door. He's very alert. :-)
So I went back to bed. I don't know if the then-unknown predator had already done his dirty deed, or if he came back later, although Jake didn't bark anymore that night. But when I went out in the morning, there were a couple small patches of bloodied feathers, and another place where a whole clump of tail feathers was lying. The two remaining ducks that had slept out were at our "pond" which is really just a low area that collects several inches of water every spring, and is maybe 20 feet across. One of those ducks was the one that lost her tail feathers, but the missing duck was taken away bodily. I figured it was either fox or coyote.
So last night I decided to stay up and sleep downstairs because I figured whatever it was would be back to try another trip through the "drive-thru", except that yesterday I closed off all access to under the shed, and the ducks were all in the poultry yard for the night. Sometime around 11:30 I think it was, Jake started growling. I went outside with my flashlight and aimed it down the slope behind our house where I thought I could hear some leaves rustling. I couldn't see anything however and the noise stopped, and so I went back inside. Around 12:30 Jake started pacing and growling again. I went to the back door and could definitely hear something walking around down the slope. I left Jake inside because I wanted to see what it was first. Over to the edge of the slope I went with my trusty flashlight, aimed it down the hill, and caught a pair of eyes belonging to a fox. He was making his way diagonally up the slope. He didn't seem upset by the light, but kept coming up the slope. He would have come out of the woods directly behind the poultry yard. Just as he started to reach the top of the slope, I said in a low tone, "Psst! I wouldn't do that if I were you", and he jumped and then turned and took off. I went and let Jake out, and he knew something was out there. He tracked around sniffing the air and the ground, and did his growl-wuffs, and then suddenly just let out a quick succession of loud growly barks. We stayed out for a while longer, me with my flashlight and Jake with his nose. But I think the fox decided to go somewhere else for the night.
I still slept on the couch, and left a window cracked open even though it was cold out, so we could better hear, but the rest of the night was peaceful. So now I will pay more attention when Jake barks at night and do more thorough checks outside from now on.
My one question though is: HOW do they know? How can Jake hear something walking through the leaves 100 feet or more away *down* the hill behind our house, when Jake is in the house with all the doors and windows shut? It's amazing. But he knew something was out there.
Good boy Jake!