Feathers Serve Role Beyond Insulation, Flight and Appearance

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by centrarchid, Dec 16, 2012.

  1. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Tonight just short of midnight a fox attacked four chickens roosting on front porch. This occured despite two dogs roaming to prevent such from occurring. Dogs oscillate back and forth between house and pens out in pasture and fox came in when dogs where on pasture side of patrol. My valuable birds are in pens while this winter the four on porch are culls represented by the following; game stag, 3/4 game x 1/4 red jungle fowl pullet, F2 Dominique x game stag, and an F1 back-cross dominique x game (3/4 dom x 1/4 game). Normally the front porch is a pretty safe place to roost but tonight fox tried its luck and pulled the game stag off a plastic rack where birds were all about 3.5 feet above the ground. I was trying to sleep inside (difficult when probably drunk adolescent kids where driving 4-wheeler with bad muffler up and down lane) when could first hear game stag squalling on front porch and then into side yard. I quickly got up to look outside with flashlight but dogs where already back and growling by time I got light on situation. Dogs apparently briefly or almost caught fox resulting in stag running back to porch. As I surveyed birds to assess damage, dogs had noses popping trying to track fox which took a route going away from pens relative to porch. The dogs ran over hill after fox but it managed to get away. All the birds had bailed from roost site and had to be picked up and placed on highest level. Additionally I placed a couple planters so fox would not be able to directly see birds if it came back. I inspected the stag and he lost a lot of feathers on his saddle and a few from tail and hackles but no bite marks where evident that actually went into flesh or skin. Best I can determine fox grabbed stag by tail, pulled him down to ground level, grabbed bird repeatedly by back and then carried him about 40 feet before dogs intervened to break up party. The squalling of rooster helped bring in another predator to interfere with first which is what occurs in nature. In this case is likely saved rooster's life and increased odds I would get involved as well.

    The birds feathers apparently interfered with foxes ability to get a good hold or deliver a damaging bite. Many feathers were lost but all could be replaced by end of February if allowed. The feathers actually helped save birds life as well as serve a sign of where action took place.

    This same fox was around last month. Then I purposely restrained dogs to see how fox was probing pens when wife released dogs resulting in elder dog actually bowling over fox but not getting it. It stayed away until tonight. The close encounters between dogs and fox are why dogs actually killed one and chewed up another in last 9 months. We are going to get this one since it is clearly got a knack for trying to beat dogs and keep me up at night. I think this fox does get a few birds from folks to east as they seem to keep changing the types of adult birds running about. Looks like neighbors buy POL pullets to replace losses to varmints thus keeping fox in eats.

    This has been an unusual year in respect to predators. Fox comes in on what are near suicide runs (getting nothing but feathers all year) and barred owls fly into house (to be caught by dogs) and hunting in broad daylight at all hours. Things are going to get real fun if significant snow hits. Drought must be making life real tough.
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2012
  2. scottcaddy

    scottcaddy Overrun With Chickens Premium Member

    We have seen the same thing here with the feathers pulled off of birds, yet when the brs were looked over very litle damage was found

    Scott
     
  3. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Yes, it may be feathers can be like tails on some lizards that designed so prey has better chance of getting away. Morning doves can dump feathers when scared which likely helps confuse sight oriented hawks.
     
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    Interesting story. Like Fred, I always enjoy your posts.

    Along the lines of feathers serving many purposes, I am reminded of something Kathyinmo recently posted. It's part of appearance, but a rooster tends to be discourged from mating as much with a hen that has poor feathering, especially in the back. I'd think this is probably related to the futility of mating with a hen that is molting and thus not laying.

    But to me the interesting part of that study was that hens that tend to be barebacked have poor feather quality. Their feathers tend to be more brittle than the ones that don't have the barebacked problem. Of course nothing in nature is 100%, but I have solved the problem of hens loosing a lot of feathers on their back by removing the hen that has the problem. I don't see how I can blame the rooster when I can solve the problem by removing the hen. The pullets I hatch from hens that don't have this problem tend to not have this problem.

    I don't know how much of a rooster's tendency to not mate as much with a hen that has feather quality problems is related to molting or if it goes deeper where a hen with poor feather quality may no be in as good overall health as a hen with good feather quality. Thus the rooster tends to mate more with hens in good health, subtly improving the overall health of the flock.
     
  5. janinepeters

    janinepeters Chillin' With My Peeps

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    This is exactly what we have observed. Once had a red tailed hawk lift a big barred rock hen about 20 feet into the air, but it was clutching her only by the back end. Suddenly, she came fluttering down to the ground, and walked away with nothing wrong but the absence of tail feathers.
     
  6. janinepeters

    janinepeters Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I don't have all that much experience with roosters, but from what experience I do have, my roosters have seemed to mate more often with hens who squat more readily. Squatting hens are usually laying hens, and laying hens are usually in better condition. I would doubt he notices feather quality, but more likely is reacting to the hen's behavior (such as squatting), which happen to be associated with good health, good laying, and good feather quality.
     
  7. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    There was actually a study about it. The birds used were the breeders used to lay the eggs that became broilers.

    But if you notice I used weasel words like tends or tendency, not absolute words. With the numbers we tend to have in backyard flocks, averages don't always mean a lot.
     
  8. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    When I see birds in poor feather, they often have other issues that may not be a turn on for other flock members. Pale combs are first thing that comes to mind with both sexes. Roosters in poor feather do not always crow as much either. Poor feather but not generally associated with loss from predators.
     
  9. janinepeters

    janinepeters Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Yes, I was not questioning this "tendency" to which you refer. I was addressing the underlying mechanism: which characteristics (eg, feather appearance vs. behaviors) the rooster might be picking up on. Things like feather quality, hen behavior, and comb color co-vary with the laying/molting cycle, so it's hard to tell which of those actually trigger(s) the rooster.
     

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