Just now, strolling out in the side field with my son, on the fresh snow I saw a wide messy swathe of sweeping feather marks and the end of a trail of tiny mouse tracks. Junior was oblivious to the drama this showed--a moment of diving from the sky, crashing into the equally oblivious mouse, and an instant rodent death in the talons and beak of an owl, falcon or hawk. My three-year-old son stomped across the delicate feather marks and his boots obliterated the one-way mouse tracks. I have seen a bird of prey crash down out of the sky onto a chicken, like a fluttering grey and brown stone, blammo, and then off again in powerful strokes, chicken no longer grazing on the ground. That would be a quick way to go, I think.
The chickens are out of their coop now, the snow having melted enough so that they can exit easily. At first this morning when I saw the feather marks in the snow I worried that I had just lost a chicken, but the mouse tracks told the story clearer than I could have imagined. No blood, just a ploof of evidence on the dusting of snow.
Yesterday as I was driving through the mountains with a friend, she noticed a big bird arcing over us and craned her neck to watch it. Then with a sigh of disappointment, she said, "Turkey vulture. But it was flying like an eagle." I look forward to the day when I know the birds well enough to spot their flying styles, feather patterns and habitat.