Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Teddy, the Great White Hunter?

The feline and canine members of our family are not renowned for their hunting skills, so I was surprised to discover what looked horribly like dunnock feathers in Cleo's room a couple of days ago. For a few minutes I was gripped with the horror that it might be Poppet, but then I saw her hopping about by the feeders. I wondered whether it could have been a wren. I haven't seen our garden wren for a few days but this is not unusual; she's a solitary bird and I often go for weeks without spying her. Whoever this poor bird was I suspect it was already dead when Cleo found it (probably in the recent cold snap), because she just doesn't do birds. When she was a young cat she could just about manage a butterfly if it flew very slowly towards her in an undeviating straight line and she had plenty of notice it was coming. That was assuming she jumped up at the right moment and clapped her paws around it and remembered not to let go in astonishment. She did progress to shrews when we moved here and has been known to bring in the occasional rat, which always impresses me because she's not a big cat and the rats she gets are sometimes not far off her own size, but, I just don't see it.

Teddy is likewise not exactly ruthless when it comes to having a hunter's instinct. This is proved by two episodes, both of which happened last year. First there was the baby bunny, which makes him sound hunter-ish in some ways but not in others.

I was feeding the horses when this terrible high-pitched screaming started. It's the sound only a rabbit in distress makes so I knew immediately what it was. Also, with a sinking heart, I had a feeling I knew who was responsible for it. 

Ted had been very interested in the hedgerows since bunny-breeding time started and now he'd managed to find a very tiny baby bunny and somehow (more by luck that intention I'm sure) got it wedged between him and a thicket of brambles, then he'd simply picked it up and, with great excitement, much whining and frantic waggings of his tail, proudly brought it out to show me. The fact that he happily gave me his prize probably underlines the point that a vicious hunter he aint. 

Anyhoo, the baby was so small it fitted into one of my hands. I guess the warmth and security made it feel reassured, because it nestled into my hand and wouldn't get off. So there I was, trying to do the horses with a baby rabbit in one hand and a wheelbarrow in the other. It was never going to work, so out came the ubiquitous feed bucket, in went some haylage and on top of that impromptu nest went said bunny. I put it in the trailer (locking teddy out) and went off to finish my chores, thinking it would either be alive when I was done or it wouldn't. 

Sadly it wasn't. There were no obvious wounds and I have a theory that animals die from shock rather than injury in circumstances like this. Either way the bunny was no more, and it was Ted's first kill (if indirectly). Strike one for Teddy's status as a fierce hunter.

The second story is less persuasive on this front and it involves crows. Now I am not a fan of crows. I consider them unnecessarily vicious creatures who seek to take pleasure in being cruel to others. I know this because a few years back I was trying a horse and while the owner rode in the paddock I noticed something plummeting out of the sky towards me. It landed close to my feet with a sickening thud and it took me a few seconds to realise it was a pigeon. The poor thing got unsteadily to it's feet looking dazed and shaken. It was bleeding and some of it's feathers had come out- they drifted down around us like ragged grey snow flakes.

I'd never seen a bird drop out of the sky before. I've seen plenty of pheasants shot down but never a living bird fall like that pigeon did. As he got to his feet and wandered off, still looked shocked, I wondered what on earth could have made him fall like that. 

And then I heard them.


A mean-looking gang of them, four or five strong, wheeled down out of the sky and began harrying the poor pigeon, who was doing his best to look as small as possible and get away from them. They dive-bombed him without mercy, taking it in turns to rake his poor back and head with their horrible claws and beaks. As if it hadn't been enough to target him when he was flying and harry him out of the sky, they now followed him while we was wobbling along on the ground, taking turns to attack him as he tried desperately to get away.  He looked utterly terrified. 

I was absolutely incensed. Not only was it five against one, the pigeon couldn't have been a less threatening object if he'd tried. I ran at the crows waving my arms and yelling at them. And d'you know what they did? They laughed. They wheeled back leisurely-like into the sky and the whole lot of them laughed. It was a horrible sound; I can still remember it, and I've never liked crows since.

Teddy comes into this story because a few weeks ago a whole flock of crows decided to make our paddocks their temporary home. I wasn't best pleased as you can imagine. Ted, however, was in heaven. Cleo may not be especially interested in birds (the most she'll do is chatter at them through her teeth), but Ted is driven absolutely crazy by them. He is bonafide Bird Mad and will take any opportunity that offers to chase them. I have a theory it's because he knows full well they'll fly off long before he reaches them so he's never forced to contemplate what he'd actually do were he ever to get near enough to catch one. The fun for Ted is in the chase.

On this particular morning I was busy feeding the horses, the crows were in the bottom half of the paddock and Ted, having clocked their presence, set off joyfully towards them yelling : "CHARGE!" 
He accelerated (from a safe distance), making that peculiarly high yipping noise of a terrier with prey in sight, but the crows didn't move. He was surprised; he was not used to this. Birds flapped speedily away when he began his charge and uttered his war cry. A tiny weeny bit of  commitment went off the edge of his charge. Still, he'd started, and drawn attention to his intention by yelling about it; he couldn't give up now without losing face, so he continued on down the field, probably praying that the big black birds would fly away any minute. But they didn't. He got closer and closer and as he got closer they looked bigger and bigger with their sharp beaks and narrowed black eyes. The shrill yip faltered and died in his throat to be replaced by an uncertain whimper as the full-on charge faded away and became instead a rather uncertain trot. He looked from side to side, clearly hoping something would miraculously appear so he could save face by chasing that instead.

Nothing appeared and so after trotting on a bit more he at last sat down a few feet away from the crows who ignored him completely. Adding insult to injury they remained on the ground a few feet away from him for about five minutes more, before giving him a particularly condescending look that clearly said "we're going now because we're ready to move, not because you're here" and they flew off into the sky utterly unperturbed by his presence.

Poor Teddy. 

He turned round and trotted back to me looking very puzzled and a bit woebegone. I promised not to tell anyone what had happened in case it dented his reputation and we both agreed that crows were nasty birds in anycase and he was better off not getting mixed up with them.

Actually, the most unlikely huntress I have ever seen was one of our chickens who, when I was a girl, found a frog that had got into their pen. It's rear end, complete with two (thankfully immobile) long dangly back legs were hanging out of her beak. She tipped her head back and gobbled it down rather in the way people swallow oysters. I also once saw a hen eat a mouse. And you thought they were vegetarians. Enjoy your eggs! 
Our hens also used to have us in hysterics at apple-time. They would jump up and down beneath the low branches of our apple trees like fat ballerinas squashed into too-tight tutus. At the apex of each upward leap they'd peck at the apples hanging on the lowest branches before gravity intervened and pulled them back down to earth. They would spend ages doing this. I imagine the calories they received from the apples didn't outweigh the outlay required to gain them in the first place!

I've another apple-eating story that also makes us laugh, it involves my mother's dog Dougal getting drunk on the fermented fruits lying beneath the trees in his garden. Several vets scratched their heads in bemusement for a while before someone realised what his being sick and lying about lethargically reminded them of, but perhaps that's best saved for another day. 

As perhaps is the time Teddy licked a toad in the garden and spent several hours afterwards frothing at the mouth and being sick. We supposed he'd learnt his lesson, but the following week the toad reappeared and Teddy just couldn't resist licking him again. 

Talking of eating revolting things, M once ate a slug in a salad thinking it was an olive. He said it was the most disgusting texture he's ever experienced- the slime had some kind of adhesive in it which stuck to the inside of his mouth. It took several hours of scrubbing with various cloths and gargling with copious quantities of alcohol (well that was his excuse anyway) to get rid of it. As if that wasn't funny enough in itself though, the really hilarious part was that M had made the salad himself and hadn't put any olives in it in the first place.

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x