We’re in the car, me and my duck, my favorite duck, and my face is wet and my voice wobbles as I tell her to hang in there, don’t worry, we’re almost there, we’re in the home stretch and she’s not making any noise or moving around much and I can see the red speckle on the tip of her bill and some splatters on the bright blue towel she’s bundled in but when we stop at a light, she turns her face toward me as if to say, it’s okay, I’m going to be okay.
It’s not like we didn’t have warnings.
When you take on the pretty ridiculous (come to think of it) job of backyard poultry-raising (free-range), the possibility of losing one/more/all of your flock to predators never goes away. Like window-washers, HAZMAT crews and bridge workers, you know the risks but you can’t think about it or you just can’t function. So unless your birds are caged (and even then), you know chances are that one day or night something hungry will defeat your defenses. I thought this day was that day.
One hawk is still hungry.
“A hawk got my duck. She’s bleeding badly. I’m on my way over.” En route to the vet, I replayed the scene we probably always knew would unfold. Ever since that first hawk duo swooped down on them back in November 2012, I realized my ducks would be tempting targets for a passing raptor. What would I do? Or worse, what if I wasn’t there? Today, I was there.
Even if you’ve never heard it, you recognize the sound immediately. A dull thud followed by an explosion of alarm cries from the rest of the flock. The hawk says nothing. It has to stay intent, fast, undistracted. I needed to distract it–faster. In slippery socks, I skidded to the sliding glass doors where the ducks had been hanging out for days. I figured (wrongly!) that a hawk would not attempt to dive that close to the house with its mishmash of shelter from a patio table and chairs. But autumn brings out the young male Cooper’s. Those claws-with-wings don’t know from reasonable risk. They’re always hungry.
As I shouted through the glass and slid open the heavy door, I could see the hawk still holding Puff (not Puff!) so I screamed louder and lunged and then and only then did he let her go. Birder that I am, I couldn’t help but notice the magnificence of her attacker’s plumage though I didn’t stop to admire his escape flight. Puff immediately got to her feet and waddled toward the house, an unsettling amount of blood spotting the ground behind her. She wasn’t limping and seemed alert but I knew I needed to get her safely stowed in case the hawk returned and I still had three other ducks quacking madly. Of course, today I was alone. (But I was there! I was there!) With no one else to help, I decided to let Puff into the living room then closed the doors behind her. I tried not to look too closely at the red drops that scattered in her wake.
It took several (come on!) painful minutes (hurry!) to get the rest of the girls in the pen. They were too freaked to walk that vulnerable distance, even with my escort. (Can’t say I blame them.) I ended up hand carrying each one, wasting precious moments when Fannie resisted, running past the door and around the outside. I nabbed her. No time for this. Puff needs me! Get in, get in!
So much blood, I kept saying when later I told the tale to anyone who’d listen. Who knew there would be so much blood! Okay, call it shock because I sounded like Lady Macbeth only Puff is a duck not a king and I had no hand in her attack. Or did I? Didn’t I know there was a hawk in the neighborhood? (Yes.) Didn’t I recognize they were upset about something the other day? (Again, yes.) Weren’t they incredibly lucky that I happened to come home minutes before, sitting mere steps from the door? (Yes, and me, too. Me, absolutely too.)
At the vet, they were ready for us. I ran into the quiet lobby and someone took the carrier from my hand and whisked Puff away. I retreated to a chair in the corner and tumbled into tears. So much blood! She seemed alert and calm…too calm? I looked out the window. The rain had turned to sleet.
I know she’s a duck. I mean, I know she’s not human but she’s more than a duck. She’s Puff. She trusts me. She walked right into the house! She knows I’m there to protect her.
And I wasn’t there for Peep.
After Peep’s terrible, sad end, I made a promise to myself that I’d be there when they needed me. Or, at least, really try. Especially at the end.
So, I’d pray. No, not pray, beg. I can’t describe what I whispered in the car as anything but begging. Please St. Anthony. Please don’t let me lose Puff. Why Anthony and not Francis, have no idea. If you drive in the rain with a wounded duck in a cat carrier, waiting forever at stupidly long traffic lights, you’d probably mix up your childhood saints, too.
The vet walked up to the desk where I was borrowing a phone to cancel an appointment I was not going to make. I dropped the phone.
I think he said: “She’s going to be alright.”
Yes? Yes! But the blood, all that blood!
“Blood feathers,” he explained.
Somehow, impossibly, the hawk only managed to scratch her surface. Most of the visible damage came from newly-grown feathers still attached to their blood supply. Puff could replace them. She could live to free-range another day. We could reset the raptor clock.
I paid the bill then drove us home to clean the crime scene in my living room.
Thank you, St. Anthony.
thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you
And a big shout-out to Dr. Pisciotta, Dr. Green and the entire team at
Rye Harrison Veterinary Hospital
Copyright 2014, Lori Fontanes